The Dalai Lama has met every US president in the past two decades, but Barack Obama also gave him a surprise memento from well before that time -- a 1942 letter from Franklin Roosevelt.
The Dalai Lama revealed that Obama handed him a replica of the long-lost letter in a closed-door meeting Thursday at the White House that infuriated China.
President Roosevelt sent the Dalai Lama, who was then seven and preparing for a life as Tibet's spiritual leader, a letter and a golden Rolex watch as a gesture to seek relations with the remote Himalayan land.
"At that time, my only interest is the gift of the watch, not the letter," the Dalai Lama said with a laugh at an award ceremony at the National Endowment for Democracy.
"I actually don't know where that letter goes. Now after 68 years, just yesterday, President Obama gave me a copy of that letter," said the visibly happy monk.
The Dalai Lama, now 74 and living in exile in India, frequently tells the story of the watch, saying that fiddling with it helped spur his lifelong interest in science.
In 2007, the Dalai Lama carried the gold watch in his pocket when then president George W. Bush presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal.
In 1942, two American army officers, Ilia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan, went to Tibet, arriving in Lhasa in December of that year. They carried a letter from then President Franklin Roosevelt. That was the time of World War II and the visit was a political plan by the Americans to seek the Tibetan assistance in providing shipping route for transporting goods through Tibet to China.
President Roosevelt’s letter said,
“Two of my fellow countrymen, Ilia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan, hope to visit your Pontificate and the historic and widely famed city of Lhasa. There are in the United States of America many persons, among them myself, who, long and greatly interested in your land and people, would highly value such an opportunity.
“As you know, the people of the United States, in association with those of twenty-seven other countries, are now engaged in a war which has been thrust upon the world by nations bent on conquest who are intent on destroying freedom of thought, of religion, and of action everywhere. The United Nations are fighting today in defense of and for preservation of freedom, confident that we shall be victorious because cause is just, our capacity is adequate, and our determination is unshakable.
“I am asking Ilia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan to convey to you a little gift in token of my friendly sentiment toward you.
“With cordial greetings [etc.]
“Franklin D. Roosevelt”
Some information for this report was provided by AFP and ICT .