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Tibet-US-Obama-Dalai-Lama-2015Dharamshala: - U.S. President Barack Obama on Thursday called the spiritual leader of Tibet "a good friend, His Holiness the Dalai Lama" and an inspiration for freedom and compassion, despite strong objections from Chinese government authorities.

The two leaders exchanged greetings but did not meet directly, according to media reports.

As the event commenced, President Obama, who made a speech about the importance of religious freedom, nodded and smiled at His Holiness the Dalai Lama, waving after "clasping his hands together in a bowing gesture towards the Tibetan spiritual leader."

Speaking before an audience of 3,000 at the national prayer breakfast in Washington, Obama heaped praise on his fellow Nobel peace laureate His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

"I want to offer a special welcome to a good friend," the president said. He described His Holiness the Dalai Lama as "a powerful example of what it means to practice compassion".

His Holiness "inspires us to speak up for the freedom and dignity of all human beings," the president said.

"I’ve been pleased to welcome him to the White House on many occasions, and we’re grateful that he’s able to join us here today," Obama added.

The praise was a brief moment in the president's 25-minute speech to National Prayer Breakfast, one of the most prominent religious events of Washington's political calendar.

Senior Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett was seated at the table with the spiritual leader of Tibet, a sign of White House support for his presence.

Despite His Holiness the Dalai Lama's insistence that he is only seeking a genuine autonomy for Tibet, China says the Tibetan leader is seeking independence from China and blindly condemns world leaders who meet with him.

Obama had said that he "acknowledges Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China and does not support independence for the region,"during his visit to Beijing a couple of months ago.

"Mr Obama reaffirmed his support for Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions and human rights for Tibetans,' the White House said in a statement after a meeting with His Holiness in 2014, lasted about an hour.

However, Obama "commended His Holiness "the Dalai Lama's commitment to peace and nonviolence and expressed support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's 'Middle Way' approach", for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people within the framework of the People's Republic of China.

Obama has met His Holiness the Dalai Lama three times. But none of the meetings have been held in public. The breakfast is an annual Washington event that brings together lawmakers from both parties and leaders from a variety of religions.