WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama held a White House meeting Saturday with the Dalai Lama, a fellow Nobel Peace laureate, hours after China called on the United States to rescind an invitation that could sour relations with Beijing.
The Tibetan spiritual leader is in Washington for an 11-day Buddhist ritual. Thousands of expatriate Tibetans joined a 76th birthday celebration Wednesday for the Dalai Lama, who has just relinquished leadership of Tibet's government-in-exile.
The White House said that during the 45-minute private session in the Map Room, Obama "underscored the importance of the protection of human rights of Tibetans in China." Obama restated U.S. policy that it does not support Tibetan independence, a goal that the Dalai Lama said he also does not seek.
In a nod to the criticism from Beijing, Obama also stressed to the Dalai Lama that he considers a cooperative relationship between the United States and China to be important, according to the White House statement.
A Chinese crackdown led the Dalai Lama to flee into exile in India in 1959. China says he's welcome to return if he drops his separatist activities, accepts Tibet as an inalienable part of China and recognizes Taiwan as a province of China.
Hours before the Dalai Lama's arrival, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged the White House to cancel the visit.
"We firmly oppose any foreign official to meet with the Dalai Lama in any form," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a statement posted on the ministry's website.
The White House kept the meeting low-key, closing it from reporters and photographers. It chose the Map Room for the visit instead of the Oval Office, which is reserved for visiting heads of state.