WASHINGTON — The Dalai Lama's top negotiator on Monday defended President Barack Obama's decision not to meet the spiritual leader, saying that warm US-China ties were in Tibetans' interests.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, who has met every sitting US president since George H.W. Bush in 1991, arrives later Monday on a week-long visit to Washington which includes talks with congressional leaders but not Obama.
Obama has sought a broader relationship with China, where he pays his first presidential visit in November. China sent troops into Tibet in 1950 and in recent months has ramped up pressure on other nations to shun the Dalai Lama.
But Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's negotiator in infrequent talks with Beijing, said the Tibetans took a "broader and long-term perspective" that it was better to meet after Obama's visit to China.
"The Dalai Lama has always been supportive of American engagement with China," Gyari, who lives in the United States, said in a statement.
"Our hope is that the cooperative US-Chinese relationship that President Obama's administration seeks will create conditions that support the resolution of the legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people," he said.
The Dalai Lama's supporters say that they are hopeful that Obama, who met with the Tibetan leader when he was a senator, will receive him by the end of the year.
But others were outraged by Obama's decision, fearing that China will interpret it as free rein to clamp down in Tibet.
Republican Congressman Frank Wolf, speaking at a hearing last week, recalled a past visit to the Himalayan region where he heard accounts of torture.
"What would a Buddhist monk or Buddhist nun in Drapchi prison think when he heard that President Obama, the president of the United States, is not going to meet with the Dalai Lama?" Wolf said.
"It's against the law to even have a picture of the Dalai Lama. I can almost hear the words of the Chinese guards saying to them that nobody cares about you in the United States."
The Dalai Lama has spent 50 years in exile in India after fleeing amid a failed uprising in Lhasa.
China has emerged as a pivotal trading partner of the United States and the top holder of its ballooning debt.