Obama postpones meeting with Dalai Lama

The State Department said President Barack Obama’s decision to put off a meeting with the Dalai Lama until after he visits China next month does not signal a change in U.S. policy on Tibet.

Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama

The exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, who is visiting Washington this week, is expected to meet with the State Department’s newly named coordinator for Tibet, Maria Otero, as well as members of Congress.

The Dalai Lama has met with every sitting U.S. leader since former President George H.W. Bush in 1991.

The decision by President Obama to put off a meeting with him until after his China visit next month is drawing criticism from some human rights advocates and conservative commentators.

State Department Spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters that the department’s newly-named Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues, Maria Otero, will meet the Dalai Lama during his Washington visit this week.  Kelly confirmed that Mr. Obama does not plan to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader until later in the year.

“We think – the United States government thinks – that he is a internationally-revered religious and cultural figure,” said Ian Kelly. “He’s a Nobel Prize laureate.  The president has decided that he will meet with the Dalai Lama at a mutually-agreeable time.  I think there was an announcement that it would be after his trip to China.  As far as further details, I would really have to refer you to the White House.”

Between the 17th century and 1959, the Dalai Lamas were the directors of the Tibetan Government, administering a large portion of the area from the capital Lhasa, although the extent of the lineage’s political authority and directorship of territory has been contested. Since 1959, the Dalai Lama has been president of the Tibetan government-in-exile, or Central Tibetan Administration.

A rebellion against the Chinese occupation was led by noblemen and monasteries and broke out in Amdo and eastern Kham in June 1956. The insurrection, supported by the American CIA, eventually spread to Lhasa. It was crushed by 1959. During this campaign, tens of thousands of Tibetans were killed and the 14th Dalai Lama and other government principals fled to exile in India.

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