MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Also in the Capitol today, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet was honored with a Congressional Gold Medal. The prize for the Dalai Lama angered the Chinese government. Today, President Bush, among others, called on Beijing to meet with the Dalai Lama.
NPR's Brian Naylor observed the ceremony.
BRIAN NAYLOR: The U.S. Capitol became the stage for all things Tibet today. On the plaza outside the west front of the building, there was a kind of Tibetan folk festival with dance and music groups performing traditional songs.
(Soundbite of music)
NAYLOR: Inside, the cavernous rotunda was jammed with lawmakers and dignitaries and a smattering of celebrities, including Richard Gere and Martin Scorsese. Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos of California said there was a good reason why the Dalai Lama was what he called a global phenomenon.
Representative TOM LANTOS (Democrat, California): It is not economic power. It is not political influence. It is moral authority.
NAYLOR: Elie Wiesel - like the Dalai Lama, a Nobel Peace Prize and Congressional Gold Medal winner - drew a parallel between the Dalai Lama and the Jews.
Mr. ELIE WIESEL (Nobel Peace Prize Laureate; Congressional Gold Medal Winner): My dear friend, as long as you are in exile, our yearning for freedom will accompany you. You will not be alone ever. And one day, you and I - if God gives me years - will go to Tibet together.
NAYLOR: President Bush yesterday met with the Dalai Lama in private at the White House without so much as a photo released so as not to poke a stick in the eyes of the Chinese, as his Press Secretary Dana Perino put it. But today, the President openly embraced him, holding his hand as they walked up the steps to the podium together. Mr. Bush said he has consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their interest and had a similar message for Beijing today.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Americans cannot look to the plight of the religiously oppressed and close our eyes or turn away. And that is why we'll continue to urge the leaders of China to welcome the Dalai Lama to China. They will find this good man to be a man of peace and reconciliation.
NAYLOR: When it came his time to speak, the self-described humble monk struggled with his robe and, good naturedly, with his English while tweaking those who came to honor him.
Mr. TENZIN GYATSO (Fourteenth Dalai Lama): I think maybe as a politician, sometimes maybe little lie, but basically these people truly stand certain spirit, truth, justice.
NAYLOR: On a more serious note, the Dalai Lama reiterated that he was not seeking independence for Tibet, but cultural autonomy. He said it was a great honor for him to receive the gold medal before heading outside to take in some music.
Brian Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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