Obama meets Dalai Lama despite China's objection

President Obama meets with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Saturday.
President Obama meets with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Saturday. Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama met privately with the Dalai Lama at the White House on Saturday, despite a call from China to avoid interfering in its internal affairs.

The White House said the 44-minute private meeting underscores the president's strong support for preserving Tibet's culture and protecting human rights. The president reiterated U.S. policy that Tibet is a part of China, but encouraged direct talks between China and Tibetans.

The Tibetan spiritual leader described the meeting as "very good" and said it showed Obama's genuine concern about what is happening in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama has been in Washington, D.C., for an 11-day Buddhist ritual. Thousands of expatriate Tibetans joined a 76th birthday celebration Wednesday for the Dalai Lama, who's just relinquished leadership of Tibet's government-in-exile.

A Chinese crackdown led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India in 1959. China says he's welcome to return if he drops his separatist activities, accepts Tibet as an inalienable part of China and recognizes Taiwan as a province of China.

Hong Lei, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, had urged Obama to cancel the meeting to avoid damaging Sino-U.S. relations. According to the state-run Xinhua news agency, he said the Tibetan issue concerns China's sovereignty and territorial integrity, and China was firmly opposed to the meeting. Hong said China had lodged diplomatic complaints in Beijing and Washington over the issue.

Obama last met the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in February 2010.

NPR's Allison Keyes and Louisa Lim contributed to this report, which contains material from The Associated Press.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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