President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama will be at the National Prayer Breakfast next week in Washington, the first time the two men have been together in nearly a year.
While the president and the Tibetan spiritual leader could have a chance encounter at the event Thursday, the White House played down any official engagement between the two.
“As he has done in the past, the president will see many religious leaders at the event, but we don’t have any specific meeting with the Dalai Lama to announce,” National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan said Friday.
The Dalai Lama does not have a speaking role at the prayer breakfast and will be seated with the audience. Obama, a speaker, will be at the head table.
Obama has met three times with the Dalai Lama. In each case, the meetings prompted objections from the Chinese government, which has branded the Dalai Lama an anti-Chinese separatist.
After the most recent meeting last February, China accused the U.S. of meddling in its affairs. Sensitive to those objections, the White House made sure the meeting was not portrayed as a conference between two heads of state and closed the session to journalists.
Meehan said Obama, as in previous appearances before the National Prayer Breakfast, will talk about the importance of upholding religious freedoms.
“The president is a strong supporter of the Dalai Lama’s teachings and preserving Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions,” she said.
SOURCE: The Associated Press