Washington, Oct 18: US President George W Bush has joined the US lawmakers in urging China to hold direct talks with the Dalai Lama on his demand for a meaningful autonomy for Tibet. The President made this observation at a function here yesterday where the 72-year-old Tibetan spiritual leader received the Congressional Gold Medal, its highest civilian honor, in recognition of his role as 'one of the world's foremost moral and religious figures, who is using his leadership role to advocate peacefully for the cultural autonomy of the Tibetan people within China.'
Bush, who became the first sitting US President to meet the Dalai Lama in public, said, ''It [Congress] has conferred this honor on a figure whose work continues, and whose outcome remains uncertain. In doing so America raises its voice in the call for religious liberty and basic human rights.'' Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, ''With this gold medal we affirm the special relationship between His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the United States.'' The Dalai Lama, in his remarks, reiterated his readiness for dialogue with Chinese leaders aimed at meaningful autonomy for Tibet.
''Let me take this opportunity to once again appeal to the Chinese leadership to recognize the grave problems in Tibet, the genuine grievances and deep resentments of the Tibetan people inside Tibet, and to have the courage and the wisdom to address these problems realistically in a spirit of reconciliation,'' Dalai Lama said.
Earlier, at a White House news conference, President Bush responded to China's criticism against the awarding of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama.
Bush said, ''I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest. I have also told them that I think it is in their interest to meet with the Dalai Lama.''