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Obama Tells Dalai Lama of 'Strong Support' for Tibet's Identity

U.S. President Barack Obama has told the Dalai Lama of his "strong support" for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity, and the protection of human rights for Tibetans in China.

The president met at the White House Thursday with the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, despite protests from China.

A statement from the White House says the president commended the Dalai Lama's commitment to nonviolence and his pursuit of dialogue with the Chinese government. It says Mr. Obama and Dalai Lama also agreed on the importance of a "positive and cooperative" relationship between the United States and China.

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, the Dalai Lama said he is "very happy" and it was a great honor to see the president. He said he and Mr. Obama discussed the promotion of religious harmony and human values, and the increased role of women in leadership roles.

The meeting has drawn angry comments from China, which said it "firmly opposes" it. China last week called on the U.S. to "immediately withdraw" the invitation.

The talks took place in the Map Room of the White House, and not in Mr. Obama's official office, the Oval Office. The meeting was closed to the press, but the White House is releasing an official photograph.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton meets with the Dalai Lama later Thursday.

A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry said last week the meeting could further damage U.S.-China relations, which have recently been strained by a planned U.S. weapons sale to Taiwan, disagreements over China's currency exchange rate and U.S. concerns over Chinese Internet censorship.

The Dalai Lama was in the United States last year, just before Mr. Obama traveled to China. But the president decided not to meet with him until after that trip.

Previous U.S. presidents have received the Dalai Lama, including George W. Bush, who presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007.

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He says he is not seeking independence for Tibet, just greater autonomy. China considers him a separatist.