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Dalai Lama and Bush meet 'like old friends'

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama speaks to reporters after meeting with Bush at the White House on Wednesday  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Dalai Lama has described a meeting in Washington with U.S. President George W. Bush as "excellent," much like "when two old friends" get together for a reunion.

"I very much appreciate his human warmth," Tibet's exiled spiritual leader told CNN's Wolf Blitzer.

The meeting with Bush was held despite angry complaints from China. China sees the Dalai Lama as a supporter of independence for Tibet, which it regards as Chinese territory.

The Dalai Lama said he told President Bush that "China is a great nation, very important nation. Therefore, China should not isolate."

He emphasized that "I am not seeking independence, I am seeking genuine autonomy."

He told the president that the next time Bush meets with Chinese officials, "he can show to the Chinese leaders, I am not seeking independence."

Tibetan leader calls first meeting with U.S. President Bush 'excellent'. CNN's Wolf Blitzer chats with the Dalai Lama (May 23)

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The Dalai Lama spoke to the press after his meeting with Bush (part 1) (May 23)

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The Dalai Lama spoke to the press after his meeting with Bush (part 2) (May 23)

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The Dalai Lama: A spiritual leader in exile

The Dalai Lama also said China is "in the process of changing. Therefore, I am optimistic."

"China proper -- no matter how powerful a nation -- is still part of the world. So China sooner or later has to go according to the global trend," he said. "So that's democracy, openness ... freedom."

Asked if he planned to return to Tibet, the exiled leader smiled broadly. "Oh, yes," he replied. "When, I don't know."

No ordinary religious figure

The White House said Bush received the Dalai Lama as a religious leader, not a political one. Chinese Foreign Ministry representative Zhu Bangzao, however, said Tuesday that "the Dalai Lama is no ordinary religious figure."

"He's a political exile engaged in separatist activities," Zhu said. "China has long opposed his visit to the United States and any official meetings and contacts between him and the U.S. administration."

Zhu called the Bush administration's agreeing to meet with the Dalai Lama -- and an unrelated stopover in New York City by Chen Shui-Bian, the president of Taiwan, also regarded by the Chinese as separatist -- "rude interference" in China's domestic affairs.

Wednesday's meeting took place in Bush's White House residence, avoiding -- as did his predecessor, Bill Clinton -- meeting the spiritual leader in official White House offices.

But officials noted the meeting was more formal than any of Clinton's meetings with the Dalai Lama.

"The president reiterated the strong commitment of the United States to support the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity and the protection of the human rights of all Tibetans," the White House said in a statement released after the morning meeting.

The statement also said Bush told the Dalai Lama he would support the spiritual leader's efforts to begin a dialogue with Chinese leaders "and expressed his hope that the Chinese government would respond favorably."

The Dalai Lama met Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who he said "listened very keenly" to his ideas about promoting human and religious rights.

The Dalai Lama's visit to Washington coincides with Beijing marking the 50th anniversary of the treaty between Tibet and China that made the Himalayan nation part of China. Beijing refers to the event as the "peaceful liberation" of Tibet.

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