U.S. President Barack Obama will welcome Tibet's spiritual leader the Dala Lama to the White House for talks on Friday amid concerns over human rights abuses in the Beijing-ruled Himalayan territory, officials said.
"In the morning, the President will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the White House," a statement from Obama's office said late Thursday.
The statement said that the two Nobel laureates would hold their talks in the White House residence's Map Room—not the Oval Office where the president welcomes heads of state—as Washington attempts to keep the meeting as low-key as possible.
It will be their third meeting since Obama entered the White House --- the first in 2010 and the second in 2011. Like previous meetings, the talks Friday will be closed to the press.
The White House said Obama would host the Dalai Lama in his capacity as a respected religious and cultural leader, adding that the U.S. recognizes Tibet as part of China and does not support Tibetan independence.
But officials expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan-populated areas in China, urging Beijing to resume talks with the Dalai Lama or his followers without preconditions.
"We are concerned about continuing tensions and the deteriorating human rights situation in Tibetan areas of China," Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
China slams planned talks
China reacted swiftly to the news of the Obama-Dalai Lama meeting scheduled at 10 a.m.Washington time on Friday, calling on Washington to scrap the talks and warning that it would "seriously damage" ties between the world's two biggest economies.
The planned meeting is a "gross interference" in China's internal affairs, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a statement on the ministry's website, Reuters news agency reported.
On Thursday, the Dalai Lama began his latest speaking tour of the United States as honored guest at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute for a discussion on happiness and free enterprise.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to India after a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese occupation, has been the face and symbol of the Tibetan struggle for freedom for more than five decades.
Sporadic demonstrations challenging Beijing’s rule have continued in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and Tibetan-populated areas of China since widespread protests swept the region in 2008.
A total of 127 Tibetans have also set themselves ablaze in self-immolation protests in China calling for Tibetan freedom and demanding the return to Tibet of the Dalai Lama.
Reported by RFA's Tibetan Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.