- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 26, 2008

BEIJING (AP) — China agreed yesterday to meet an envoy of the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, bending to rising calls for talks after weeks of anti-government protests by his supporters that threatened to tarnish the Beijing Olympics.

The development came as the Olympic flame is wrapping up the international portion of its global torch relay — a journey that has seen large demonstrations in the West and elsewhere against China’s rule in Tibet.

The communist government’s statement stops well short of restarting actual negotiations on what the exiled Tibetan characterizes as cultural and religious repression in his homeland.

It also restates long-established preconditions for negotiations, including that the Dalai Lama unambiguously recognize Tibet as a part of China.

“The Dalai Lama is always open to have a dialogue,” Samdhong Rimpoche, prime minister of the India-based Tibetan government-in-exile, said at the government’s headquarters in the Indian hill town of Dharamsala.

“But,” he added, “the present circumstances in Tibet do not appear to be an appropriate platform for a meaningful dialogue.”

Beijing has faced a chorus of calls from world leaders to open a dialogue, and White House press secretary Dana Perino said the Bush administration was encouraged by the news.

She said President Bush believes the Dalai Lama is a “man of peace” and someone Chinese leaders should feel comfortable conversing with. Mr. Bush has been urging the two to increase their interactions.

“We are hopeful that this will be a new direction in their relationship,” Mrs. Perino said.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he raised the issue with Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao on Thursday and called yesterday’s announcement encouraging.

Tibetan officials in the United States said the Dalai Lama left New York on Thursday for India and is scheduled to arrive in Dharamsala today.

Tibetan protests that sparked deadly rioting in the capital, Lhasa, in March have galvanized critics of the communist regime and threatened to overshadow the Olympics, an object of massive national pride for China.

Impassioned demonstrations have followed the flame as it traveled the world. Yesterday, the torch relay ignited more protests, sparking demonstrations in the Japanese city of Nagano despite the mobilization of thousands of riot police.

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