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Key US Diplomat Urges China to Open Talks With Dalai Lama

The second-ranking diplomat in the Bush administration is urging China to open talks with the Dalai Lama, saying stability in the troubled, Chinese-ruled Tibet is not possible without such dialogue. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte made his comments in testimony at a Senate hearing Wednesday, as VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill.

Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte expressed US concern about China's rhetorical attacks against the Dalai Lama as he called on Beijing to open dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader.

"If Beijing does not engage with the Dalai Lama now, it will only serve to strengthen those who advocate extreme views," said John Negroponte. "Public vilification of the Dalai Lama will not help defuse the situation."

Speaking at a Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee hearing, Negroponte said China would not achieve the stability it seeks without addressing the grievances of Tibetans:

"The Tibetans have legitimate grievances stemming from years of repression and Chinese policies that have adversely impacted their religion, culture, and livelihoods," he said. "An increasingly influential China has the responsibility to protect and uphold the rights of its minority groups."

Negroponte urged China to reexamine longstanding policies in Tibetan areas that he said exacerbate tension, and he called for unfettered access to Tibet for diplomats and journalists. He said it is a U.S. priority to establish a permanent diplomatic presence in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa.

Protests led by Tibetan Buddhist monks last month escalated into widespread clashes between demonstrators and security forces. Tibet's government-in-exile says more than 150 people died in the resulting Chinese crackdown.

Beijing has accused the Dalai Lama of being behind the protests in Lhasa and the unrest that followed in other ethnic Tibetan areas of China as part of a bid for Tibetan independence. The Dalai Lama has denied the accusation, and urged restraint. He has said he supports autonomy for Tibet, not independence.

Also testifying at the Senate hearing was actor and Tibet activist Richard Gere. He noted that President Bush presented the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honor, six months ago. But he said the action falls far short of what the Bush administration could do to advance the cause of the Tibetan people.

"I am still waiting for the President to throw some weight behind this issue and become publicly engaged," said Richard Gere. "We are looking for effective policies that yield results for those who are suffering now."

Lodi Gyari, the special envoy of the Dalai Lama, expressed his own concerns about the actions of Chinese authorities.

"The Chinese, as a result of the present situation, have started a massive policy of discrimination against Tibetans," said Lodi Gyari.

Gyari warned of continuing tensions in Tibetan areas, saying the situation is very explosive.