The White House announced today that President Obama will be meeting with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on February 18, i.e. on next Thursday. It was the second of the two announcements that Spokesman Robert Gibbs made as he began today’s regular briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House.
Gibbs said, “Secondly, on February 18th the president will meet with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The meeting will take place in the Map Room here at the White House. The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious leader and spokesman for Tibetan rights, and the president looks forward to an engaging and constructive dialogue.”
This was followed by some questionings by the press. As I write this, the White House is yet to release the transcript, but here is what I have been able to get.
“Q Robert — (off mike) — this is a difficult time and a tense time already with China, and you have the problem that you’re talking about right now. You need China’s help on Iran and many other issues. Why proceed with the Dalai Lama meeting, which you know will infuriate them?
“MR. GIBBS: Well, we’ve said this all along. First off, we talked to the Chinese about their currency in Beijing. We talked to the Chinese about the Dalai Lama in Beijing. We talked about Internet access and Internet freedom with the Chinese, both in Shanghai during a town-hall meeting and in Beijing.
“We think we have a mature enough relationship with the Chinese that we can agree on issues that are of mutual interest, but we also have a mature enough relationship that — we know that two countries on this planet are not always going to agree on everything, and we’ll have — we’ll have those disagreements.”
The Map Room is not unfamiliar to His Holiness. In 1998, it was the venue of the meeting that he had with then President Bill Clinton. The Map Room also seems to have figured in quite a few historical events. When President Obama had to retake his oath of office from Chief Justice John Roberts last year, the oath was taken in the Map Room. When President Clinton testified before independent counsel Ken Starr investigating the Lewinsky scandal in 1998, it was done in the Map Room.
I guess President Obama will map out his Tibet strategy in the Map Room now.
In any case, here are some recent responses by White House spokesperson on questions relating to the meeting between the President and the Dalai Lama. It gives you a taste of how the White House has been working to project this upcoming meeting in the way they want it to appear.
“Gaggle by Deputy Press Secretary Bill Burton aboard Air Force One en route Manchester, New Hampshire, 2/2/10
“Q Bill, China had some tough warnings about the President possibly meeting with the Dalai Lama. Does the President intend to meet? Is there a time, date set for that?
“MR. BURTON: The President told China leaders — China’s leaders during his trip last year that he would meet with the Dalai Lama, and he intends to do so. The Dalai Lama is an internationally respected religious and cultural leader, and the President will meet with him in that capacity.
“To be clear, the U.S. considers Tibet to be a part of China. We have human rights concerns about the treatment of Tibetans. We urge the government of China to protect the unique cultural and religious traditions of Tibet.
“As the President has expressed, we expect that our relationship with China is mature enough where we can work on issues of mutual concern, such as climate, the global economy, and nonproliferation, and discuss frankly and candidly those issues where we disagree. The President is committed to building a positive, comprehensive, and cooperative relationship with China.
“Q A date?
“MR. BURTON: We’ll announce a date as it comes closer.
“Briefing by White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, 2/4/10
“James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
“Q A quick follow. Is the Dalai Lama still coming to meet with the President at the White House or not?
“MR. GIBBS: I’m sorry?
“Q If the Dalai Lama is still coming to meet with the President at the White House?
“MR. GIBBS: He will be here later this month, yes. Again, just let me say, again, that we told President Hu in November in Beijing. The President told him that. The President discussed each of these issues — Iranian sanctions, larger proliferation, and currency.
“Q The Dalai Lama meeting that you said will be here at the White House, will that be in the Oval? Will that be in the Residence?
“MR. GIBBS: I do not know where the location of the meeting will be.
“Q Will cameras be allowed in, or will the pool be brought in?
“MR. GIBBS: I don’t have any coverage information on that right now.
“Q Sixteenth and 17th for that?
“MR. GIBBS: I don’t have a date either.
“Q You don’t have a date? Okay.
“Q The Dalai Lama is not a leader of a foreign power. What is the nature of his invitation here? Is he invited in as a personal guest?
“MR. GIBBS: I can check with NSC. I don’t — the President meets with folks in the White House all the time that aren’t foreign leaders.
“Q — whether it’s an Oval Office visit or whether he stops —
“MR. GIBBS: Yes, and I honestly — I don’t have any information on where the meeting will take place.”