By Michelle Boorstein
When the Dalai Lama visits Washington next week, it will be the first time since 1991 that he hasn’t been greeted by the sitting American president. Needless to say, his advocates are trying to put a positive face on this.
The Tibetan Buddhist leader, who has been in the country since Sept. 23, will be in D.C. from Monday through Saturday, visiting with members of Congress, giving a large “teaching” at American University (the subject: the power of the human mind) and meeting with Chinese people who have spoken out in defense of democracy in Tibet.
But he won’t be meeting President Obama, who opted to wait until after a U.S.-China summit next month. The highest level American official he’ll see this trip is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which is a stark contrast to his visit two years ago, when he was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal – Congress’ highest civilian honor – and met with President Bush at the Capitol, thrilling thousands of Buddhists and non-Buddhists who celebrated on the lawn outside.
It’s not clear what the Obama snub means to Tibetans’ hopes that the United States will help ease one of the most intense Chinese security crackdowns. Obama did send his senior adviser and close friend Valerie Jarrett earlier this month to Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama’s base-in-exile in India. That was the highest-level White House delegation ever to go there.
I asked Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman for the International Campaign for Tibet, if her people felt discouraged by next month’s public slight. She tried to shift the focus to American supporters – of the Dalai Lama, and of Obama.
“It’s disappointing,” she said. “Many of those Americans feel this sends a message of diminished U.S. support.” She said it raises hopes for people like her that the White House will push the Tibet issue during talks with China next month.
The Dalai Lama’s first real public appearance will be Tuesday morning at the Capitol Visitors’ Center, where he is getting an award.
We’ll be covering parts of the trip, as will our China expert and colleague John Pomfret.