The Dalai Lama met with President Obama

The Dalai Lama met with President Obama in the Map Room of the West Wing in the White House on Thursday February 18, 2010. (White House)

Today’s meetings of His Holiness the Dalai Lama with President Barack Obama, in the late morning, and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in the early afternoon, underscore that Tibet remains a serious issue of global importance.

“Today’s meeting is a clear demonstration of President Obama’s support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts to resolve the Tibet issue as well as of his personal respect for him,” said Lodi Gyari, the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and chief negotiator with the Chinese government.

The White House has said that it expects the meeting between President Obama and the Dalai Lama to be “engaging and constructive,” reflecting the recognition that there are serious and substantive issues on the table for Tibet, China, and the U.S.-Chinese relationship.

The Dalai Lama met with President Obama in the Map Room of the West Wing in the White House on Thursday February 18, 2010. (Photo: White House)

“The United States has a long and active record on Tibet with well-established polices and programs,” said Mary Beth Markey, Vice President for International Advocacy at the International Campaign for Tibet. “Thus, when the White House stated that the President is meeting with the Dalai Lama as a ‘spokesman’ for Tibet rights, it connotes that the agenda will address far more than religious matters, and will cover a range of substantive issues, such as human rights abuses, economic marginalization and regional stability.”

President Obama enters the meeting facing the fact that the Chinese government has elevated Tibet to a “core issue” of territorial integrity and sovereignty, launched an effort to align foreign governments with its way of thinking on the status of Tibet, and concluded a rare top-to-bottom review of its Tibet policy with serious repercussions for Tibet’s future. His meeting also comes just three weeks after the Dalai Lama’s envoys returned from Beijing for the ninth round of dialogue, in which the envoys conveyed further information on their proposal for genuine autonomy for Tibetans, in their continuing effort to resolve the Tibet issue through substantive negotiations.

Last evening , Tibetans in the eastern area of Amdo, where the Dalai Lama was born, set off fireworks at midnight to mark the meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Obama today (video: Reuters, Chinese react to Dalai Lama-Obama). It was a bold reminder of the determination of Tibetans to express their loyalty to the ir exiled leader, despite the intense security crackdown in place since protests occurred across the Tibetan plateau from March 2008 , and of the hope Tibetans place in American support for their cause.

“This is an important leadership opportunity for President Obama to affirm the role of the free world in promoting human rights and a solution for Tibet,” concluded Mary Beth Markey. “Today’s meeting shows that the U.S. Government understands what is at stake for the Tibetan people and finds a legitimate place for the Tibet issue within a comprehensive China policy.”