US lawmakers to rally behind Dalai Lama

Top US lawmakers plan Thursday to welcome the Dalai Lama in a show of support as China stepped up pressure on President Barack Obama not to hold his own meeting with Tibet's exiled spiritual leader.

Members of the House of Representatives plan to put aside briefly a bitter debate on taming the US debt for talks with the Dalai Lama, a rare figure embraced by both sides of the political spectrum in the United States.

House Speaker John Boehner, the third highest-ranking US official under the Constitution, invited the Dalai Lama to the Capitol. Former speaker Nancy Pelosi, the House leader of Obama's Democratic Party and longtime supporter of the Dalai Lama, will join the talks along with other senior lawmakers.

The White House has tried to keep the question of a meeting with Obama on the back-burner after treatment of the Dalai Lama during his two previous visits to Washington raised hackles both in Congress and China.

The White House has said only that it has no announcement to make on a potential meeting with the Dalai Lama, who is in Washington until the end of next week to lead a Buddhist ritual before thousands of devotees.

China warned the United States against a meeting. Foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: "We are firmly against the Dalai Lama engaging in activities aimed at splitting the motherland through overseas visits."

"We are firmly opposed to foreign governments or any political figures supporting and encouraging such activities," Hong told reporters in Beijing.

Beijing accuses the Dalai Lama, who fled China's rule of his homeland in 1959, of pursuing separatism.

The Dalai Lama, a follower of India's apostle of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi, says he accepts Chinese rule and is seeking greater rights for Tibetans. He recently said he was retiring from his political role, even though the Nobel Peace laureate remains the clear face of Tibet.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Republican who heads the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has urged Obama to see the Dalai Lama. She criticized the White House for obliging the Dalai Lama to use a back entrance during his last visit in 2010, walking past garbage bags and snow.

"I would strongly encourage the president to pay the proper respect that this leader deserves, and that sad escort out the back door was shameful. He deserves better treatment than that," she said at a hearing last month.

During the visit last year, Obama met with the Dalai Lama away from the cameras in the private residence. In 2009, Obama came under fire from Congress for not meeting at all with the Dalai Lama when the monk visited Washington, with the president hoping not to sour the mood before his first trip to China.

Maria Otero, the US under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs who serves as the coordinator on Tibet policy, met with the Dalai Lama after his arrival in Washington on Tuesday.

The State Department said Otero told the Dalai Lama of the "strong US support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of human rights in the People's Republic of China."

Otero also "commended the Dalai Lama for his commitment to peace and non-violence and the pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government," a State Department statement said.

The State Department in its latest annual report described "severe cultural and religious repression" in Tibet along with China's predominantly Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang.

Rights groups this year reported a major crackdown on Kirti monastery in Sichuan province after an anti-government protest. The International Campaign for Tibet said police rounded up hundreds of monks and that two elderly Tibetan laypeople who tried to protest the monastery died after police beatings.

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