- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 18, 2012

The U.S. ambassador to China made a surprise visit to Tibet, where Buddhist monks have been burning themselves to death to protest Chinese rule.

Ambassador Gary Locke traveled in late September to the beleaguered Ngaba region of the province, which the communist Chinese government usually keeps sealed off from foreign officials.

He met with Tibetan government officials and residents in Ngaba and also visited Buddhist monasteries, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said this week.

Mr. Locke’s visit was related to Washington’s distress over the number of monks who have set themselves on fire in a campaign for Tibetan independence, she added.

Fifty-five Tibetans have immolated themselves since February 2009.

“We have grave concerns about self-immolations in Tibet and about the underlying grievances that the Tibetan people have,” Mrs. Nuland told reporters at a daily news conference. “And we have consistently urged dialogue between the Chinese government and the Tibetan people with regard to those grievances.”

U.S. Embassy officials in Beijing told reporters that the Chinese government knew in advance that Mr. Locke planned to visit Tibet.

The Chinese government has not commented on the ambassador’s trip to Tibet.

The exiled Tibetan government, headed by the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, India, welcomed Mr. Locke’s visit.

“We hope that this is the first of many more visits by international delegations to Tibet,” a spokesman, identified only as Tashi, told Phayul.com, a pro-independence news website.

Mr. Locke is the second U.S. ambassador to visit Tibet since 2010, when Ambassador Jon M. Huntsman took a three-day trip to the Tibetan Autonomous Region.

Politics of Benghazi

Most U.S. voters believe President Obama damaged his re-election campaign by his response to the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where terrorists killed the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans, according to a survey this week from respected pollster Scott Rasmussen.

Mr. Rasmussen found that 51 percent of 1,000 likely voters who responded to his poll said the murder of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens will hurt Mr. Obama.

Just 35 percent approved of the president’s handling of the aftermath of the attack on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon in 2001. That finding is down 9 points from the 44 percent approval rating for Mr. Obama in a Rasmussen poll shortly after the attack.

Mr. Rasmussen published his poll on his website on Monday, the day before Mr. Obama met Republican nominee Mitt Romney in a televised debate underscored by a dispute over the attack on the consulate in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city and the home of the uprising that toppled dictator Moammar Gadhafi last year.

Mr. Romney accused Mr. Obama of refusing to call the assault on the consulate a terrorist attack until nearly two weeks after heavily armed gunmen destroyed the diplomatic compound.

Mr. Obama claimed he cited terrorism as the cause for the attack on Sept. 12 in a White House Rose Garden statement. However, Mr. Obama continued to blame an Internet video that mocked Islam for the attack in several subsequent public remarks, including in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.

The Rasmussen poll, conducted Oct. 13-14, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297 or email [email protected] The column is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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