Friday, February 5, 2010

President Obama will welcome the Dalai Lama to the White House this month for a meeting sure to ratchet up tensions between China and the U.S.

Thursday’s announcement from the White House, which had long been expected, is the latest in a series of blows to a relationship the United States views as critically important. The U.S. wants China’s help in solving nuclear standoffs with Iran and North Korea and economic and climate change crises.

China, which believes that shunning the exiled Tibetan monk should be a basic principle of international relations, was quick to denounce the meeting.

Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in an interview that China has been regularly pressing the United States on the Dalai Lama, whom China accuses of pushing for Tibetan independence.

He urged the administration to scrap the meeting “so as to avoid further negative impact on bilateral relations.”

In response to China’s claims that he seeks Tibetan independence, the Dalai Lama has said repeatedly that he wants only “real autonomy” for Tibet.

Human rights activists consider a White House visit for the Nobel Peace laureate a powerful message to Tibetans and others struggling for human rights around the world. The Dalai Lama is celebrated in much of the world as a figure of moral authority.

Ties between the U.S. and China were already fraying after the Obama administration announced last week a $6.4 billion arms sale package for Taiwan, the self-governing island China considers its own. The United States has also recently criticized China for Internet censorship, and Mr. Obama on Wednesday vowed to get tough with China in a currency dispute.

Presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters that the meeting would be in February but did not specify a date. The Dalai Lama’s secretary has said the Tibetan monk will be in Washington on Feb. 17-18.

Mr. Obama was under intense pressure to meet with the Dalai Lama after putting off a meeting in October.

U.S. officials said at the time that Tibet could be better addressed in a November summit between Mr. Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao if Chinese leaders weren’t furious over a recent Dalai Lama-Obama meeting.

c AP writer Ben Feller contributed to this report.

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