Barack Obama expresses support for Tibet in letter to Dalai Lama

Barack Obama, US Senator for Illinois and presumptive US presidential nominee of the Democratic Party, sent a letter to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on Thursday (July 24) to assure him of his highest respect and support “for your mission and your people at this critical time.” Arizona Senator John McCain, presumptive U.S. presidential nominee of the Republican Party, met the Dalai Lama to discuss Tibet on Friday (July 25) in Aspen, Colorado.

In his letter to the Dalai Lama, delivered by Ambassador Jeffrey Bader, Barack Obama expresses regret that their respective travel schedules did not permit a meeting during the Dalai Lama’s visit this month to the US, and writes: “I hope that this letter and your meeting with Senator McCain will make clear that American attention to and backing for the people of Tibet is widespread and transcends the divisions of our political contest in this important election year.” Senator Barack Obama last met the Dalai Lama in 2005 at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee event.

The full text of the letter, which appears on Sen. Obama’s website, follows below.

July 24, 2008

Your Holiness,

I regret that our respective travel schedules will prevent us from meeting during your visit to the United States this month, but I wanted to take the opportunity to reassure you of my highest respect and support for you, your mission and your people at this critical time. I hope that this letter and your meeting with Senator McCain will make clear that American attention to and backing for the people of Tibet is widespread and transcends the divisions of our political contest in this important election year.

I was heartened to read of the continuing dialogue between your representatives and the government of the People’s Republic of China. Although progress is likely to be slow, and the travails of the people of Tibet will continue, I am hopeful that the process of dialogue and negotiation will bring positive results if both sides demonstrate good intentions and mutual respect. I remain optimistic that this process will continue beyond the Beijing Olympics, and pledge that I will continue to support it. The right to practice their religious beliefs without punishment or obstruction is one that should be accorded the people of Tibet, and I will continue to encourage the Chinese government to put aside its suspicions and act in accordance with its own constitution.

I will continue to support you and the rights of Tibetans. People of all faiths can admire what you are doing and what you stand for, and I look forward to meeting you at another time.

With great respect,

Barack Obama

The meeting between the Dalai Lama and U.S. Senator John McCain, who was accompanied by Sen. Lindsey Grahm (R-SC), on Friday lasted more than 45 minutes during which His Holiness briefed the Senator on the situation in Tibet and the status of the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue process. In his remarks to the media after the meeting, Senator McCain said,”I urge the Chinese leaders to engage in talks and make progress with His Holiness’ Representatives in addressing the just grievances of the Tibetan people. I urge the Chinese government to release Tibetan political prisoners and account for Tibetans who have ‘disappeared’ since the protests in March and engage in meaningful dialogue and genuine autonomy for Tibet.”

Sen. McCain also said: “The Olympics next month should be a time for China to demonstrate to the world that it is committed to respecting the basic human rights of its people. The United States welcomes good relations with China but it does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”

In his remarks, the Dalai Lama said: “This time my visit is non-political. My old friend, now one of the candidates for president of this great country, and I had the opportunity of meeting. Indeed I feel great, great honor. And he was showing genuine concern about democracy, human rights, religious freedom and environment issue in China in general and particularly in Tibet’s case. And I explained the up to date situation. They both showed genuine concern and interest. So thank you very much.”

Senator McCain responded by saying: “Thank you Your Holiness. That is not an endorsement. That is a statement of the incredible power and influence of this unique citizen of the world.”

 

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