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22october20091DHARAMSALA, INDIA: "There's no stronger advocate for human rights than President Obama," said Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations, in an interview for Reuters yesterday. The comment was made regarding President Obama's upcoming trip to China next month, and his decision to postpone meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama until after returning from the summit in Beijing with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

By denying His Holiness an audience at the White House, Obama became the first president in 18 years to do so, though Jarrett maintained that the President was neither snubbing His Holiness nor cow towing to pressure from China. "It is not a signal of any lack of commitment to human rights. That's a ridiculous conclusion to draw." Critics, however, including human rights groups and opposition Republicans, assert that the President is ignoring human rights issues in order to curry favor with China, the world's fastest-growing military superpower and largest single holder of US debt.

The President's decision not to grant audience to His Holiness was made in light of his efforts to work with Chinese leaders toward improving their policies on issues such as global warming, international finance, and nuclear proliferation. When asked whether it might have been made with Chinese sensitivities about Tibet in mind, Jarrett conceded, "That's a fair point to make."

In response to President Obama's decision, His Holiness told CNN, "I do not want to create any inconvenience to anybody." He cited China's displeasure with French President Nikolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel for holding meetings with him last year, noting that "they were both punished by the Chinese government. If Obama meets with me now, the Chinese will have a problem. Should they also punish Obama?"

Jarrett mentioned that the President actually intended to discuss the issue of Chinese tensions with Tibet during his trip, and that he would host the exiled Tibetan leader at the White House as early as December. "The president has a relationship with the Dalai Lama. He [also] has a relationship with the Chinese." Many Tibetans and Tibetan sympathizers hope that the President will act as an intermediary of sorts between China and Tibet, helping the two sides reach a mutually agreeable compromise over the issue of Tibetan autonomy.


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