MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
The Dalai Lama began his latest visit to Washington today. On Capitol Hill, he received a human rights award and met with lawmakers. There is one big gap in his schedule, though. President Obama has no plans to meet this week with the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader. The White House decided to put off such a meeting until after President Obama goes to China in November.
NPR's Michele Kelemen explains.
MICHELE KELEMEN: When the Dalai Lama received an award in memory of the late Congressman Tom Lantos, he didn't mention what some see as a White House snub. However, he did raise his past dealings with U.S. presidents, recounting a story about how Franklin Roosevelt once sent him a letter and a gold watch.
KELEMEN: Well, since my childhood, of course, I do not know much, but when we heard America as a champion of liberty, freedom, democracy. And then perhaps maybe because of that watch...
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DALAI LAMA: I developed some sort of love to America, something affection to America maybe.
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KELEMEN: And he said he had that watch with him at an award ceremony with President Bush two years ago. The late Congressman Lantos first invited the Dalai Lama to Capitol Hill back in 1987. The California Democrat's daughter Katrina Lantos Swett said it was fitting that the Lantos Foundation gave its first award to the Tibetan spiritual leader. She told NPR that she would've liked to have seen the White House open its doors to him as well.
BLOCK: I know that President Obama has indicated he does plan to meet with the Dalai Lama and we welcome that and we are pleased and we encourage that. We wish it had been now on this visit. Every president since 1991 has welcomed His Holiness and met with him.
KELEMEN: She says by delaying such a meeting until after President Obama goes to China, the U.S. is sending a signal that human rights are not central. Beside, she argues, there's never a good time to have such a meeting because Beijing believes he's trying to split Tibet from China, a charge the Dalai Lama denies.
BLOCK: There's no time when reaching out to and welcoming the Dalai Lama doesn't irritate the Chinese.
KELEMEN: Her father, Congressman Lantos, faced an uphill battle with the State Department when he brought the Dalai Lama to Congress more than two decades ago. The congressman's widow, Annette Lantos, recounted that story in a video tribute today.
BLOCK: The State Department put tremendous pressure on him to stop it. But of course, you know, the Congress is an independent body and basically my husband could tell the entire State Department delegation to go fly a kite.
KELEMEN: This time, the State Department sent its Tibet coordinator, Maria Otero, to watch the Dalai Lama receive the Lantos Award. Meanwhile, the Tibetan spiritual leader's envoy in Washington played down the fact that the Dalai Lama won't be received at the White House just yet. The envoy said that the Dalai Lama hopes that a more cooperative U.S.-China relationship will help resolve the grievances of the Tibetan people.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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