Washington: President Barack Obama held a long awaited meeting with the Dalai Lama on Thursday defying warnings from Beijing that it could further strain US-Sino relations amid tension over American arms sales to Taiwan and claims of Chinese cyber-spying.
Obama, who had failed to meet the Tibetan spiritual leader last year to keep Beijing in good humour ahead of his first state visit to China in November, met the Dalai Lama in the White House Map Room instead of his Oval Office to indicate the unofficial nature of the meeting.
No cameras were allowed as the two Nobel Peace Prize recipients opened their talks.
Dalai Lama has now met every sitting US president since George HW Bush in 1991, but none of them received him in the Oval Office. White House planned to release an official picture later.
The Dalai Lama will later hold a separate closed-door meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Across the White House, supporters chanted and waved Tibetan and US flags in snowy Lafayette Square to welcome the Tibetan spiritual leader who has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled his homeland.
Ahead of the visit the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, Lodi Gayari, said he would be asking the US president to “help find a solution in resolving the Tibet issue that would be mutually beneficial to the Tibetan and Chinese people”.
But it was “important in itself that the meeting is happening,” he said. Gayari stressed that the Dalai Lama agreed with Obama’s decision not to meet him last October, but said that “we had a lot of misgivings”.
Meanwhile, a new national Opinion Research Corporation poll released on Thursday said nearly three-quarters of all Americans think that Tibet should be an independent country.
But the survey also indicates that most Americans think it is more important to maintain good relations with China than to take a stand on Tibet.