His Holiness the Dalai Lama departed Washington, D.C., Friday, February 19 following meetings with President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and after being awarded the Democracy Service Medal by the National Endowment for Democracy.

In the morning of February 18, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met with President Obama, their second meeting and first since Obama was elected U.S. President (they first met in 2005 at a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee of which then Senator Obama was a member). It was the fourth consecutive U.S. president with whom the Dalai Lama has met at the White House.

Speaking to the press at the White House following the meeting, His Holiness said he was “very happy” and noted that the President supported his “full commitment to the ‘Middle Way’ approach.” The Dalai Lama later gave expanded remarks to the press, saying, “the administration is fully supportive of our middle way approach: very clear, very specific. In our conversation he was very sympathetic and very supportive of that.”

The White House’s statement noted that the “President commended the Dalai Lama’s “Middle Way” approach, his commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government.” This appears to be the first time that a White House has specifically praised the ‘Middle Way’ approach, the Dalai Lama’s long-standing effort to protect Tibet’s identity through negotiation of autonomy within the People’s Republic of China. This approach is outlined in the Memorandum on Genuine Autonomy (2008) and an accompanying Note, which was delivered to the Chinese by the Dalai Lama’s envoys last month.

In a poignant reminder of the long relationship between the United States and the Dalai Lama, President Obama presented the Dalai Lama a gift of copies of correspondence between him and U.S. presidents from the 1940s, including the first letter he received from a U.S. President: a copy of a July 3, 1942 letter from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the letter, carried to Lhasa and conveyed by two U.S. military officers, President Roosevelt wrote that, “[t]here are in the United States of America many persons, including myself, who [are] long and greatly interested in your land and people.”

In the afternoon of February 18, His Holiness the Dalai Lama met at the U.S. State Department with Secretary Hillary Clinton, who was joined by Under Secretary of State and Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Maria Otero, and other senior officials. His Holiness described his meeting with the Secretary of State as a meeting between two old friends, as he had met with Mrs. Clinton as First Lady and as U.S. senator from New York many times over the years. The Dalai Lama said he had raised certain issues regarding Tibet in both meetings on behalf of Kalon Tripa, the head of the Tibetan government in exile.

Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, who hosted the Dalai Lama during his visit to Washington in October 2009, issued a statement in which she said, “President Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama marks another chapter in the long friendship and close ties between the United States and the people of Tibet. As Americans, we must continue to stand with His Holiness to promote, preserve, and protect the rights of all people to live in freedom worldwide.”

On February 19, in a ceremony at the Library of Congress, the Dalai Lama was awarded the Democracy Service Medal by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Presented by NED President Carl Gershman, the high honor was bestowed “in recognition of the Tibetan spiritual leader’s commitment to advancing the principles of democracy and human dignity.” Concluding his statement on the Dalai Lama’s contributions to the promotion of democracy, including through his experience in exile, Gershman noted the link between the “Dalai Lama’s struggle for the survival of Tibet” and “the future of democracy in the world’s largest country,” China.