Dalai Lama set to leave for US, to meet Obama (Lead, Superseding earlier story)

February 16th, 2010 - 3:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama Dharamsala, Feb 16 (IANS) Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama was set Tuesday to leave for the US where he will have a long-awaited meeting with President Barack Obama despite China’s objection, an aide said.
Tenzin Taklha, joint secretary in the Dalai Lama’s office, told IANS that the Dalai Lama would spend 10 days in the US. The highlight of the trip would be the meeting with the Obama.

“We view the meeting as an expression of American concern for the Tibetan cause,” Taklha said.

The Dalai Lama would fly to New Delhi Tuesday evening and depart for the US Wednesday morning, he said.

US authorities have vowed to go ahead with the meeting despite China’s stern warning that Sino-US relations would be damaged if American leaders meet the Dalai Lama.

US presidents normally meet VIPs and visiting government heads in the Oval office but past presidents have avoided meeting the Dalai Lama in the room.

Obama avoided meeting the Dalai Lama ahead of a visit to China last year in an apparent bid to set relations with Beijing on a good footing in the first year of presidency that included meetings with President Hu Jintao.

The Dalai Lama, who fled his homeland in 1959 and has lived in India since then, has met Obama before he became president.

During the US presidential election campaign in 2008, Obama voiced support for the Tibetan people but did not meet the spiritual leader then.

Obama later wrote to the Dalai Lama, saying that “American attention to and backing for the people of Tibet is widespread”.

“I regret that our respective travel schedules will prevent us from meeting during your visit to the US this month (July 2008), but I wanted to take the opportunity to reassure you of my highest respect and support for you, your mission and your people at this critical time,” he said in the letter dated July 24, 2008.

After his election, Obama aides met the Dalai Lama in September last year in Dharamsala and told him how the US could assist in the resolution of the Tibetan issue.

The spiritual leader, who believes in a “middle-path” policy that demands “greater autonomy” for the Tibetans, has met many former US presidents including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Sources in the Dalai Lama’s office said he would apprise Obama about the recently concluded ninth round of talks between the exiles and Chinese officials. Since 2002, both sides have held nine rounds of talks in a bid to find a solution to the Tibetan problem.

During special prayer sessions here Sunday to mark Losar (Tibetan New Year), the Dalai Lama expressed concern over the plight of people living in Tibet.

“Despite facing great problems in Tibet for many years, the Tibetan people living inside have shown indomitable courage and sincerity in standing up to the situation,” he said in his address.

“Tibetans are marking the year as a year of remembrance of Tibetan people’s suffering… Tibetans living in the free world must not forget the critical situation in Tibet. The Tibetans in exile must keep up their sincerity and courage like their brethren in Tibet,” he said.

The Dalai Lama heads a Tibetan government-in-exile that is not recognized by any country.

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