McCain to meet the Dalai Lama |

McCain to meet the Dalai Lama

Charles Agar
Pitkin County Correspondent
Vail CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet/The Aspen TimesSogyal Rinpoche, left, and Robert Thurman discuss Tibet's Buddhist heritage Thursday at The Aspen Institute.

ASPEN, Colorado ” Republican presidential candidate John McCain will meet with the Dalai Lama at a private home in Aspen’s West End Friday, according to a McCain aide.

The Dalai Lama is scheduled to arrive in Aspen Friday morning to speak at an Aspen Institute symposium on Tibetan culture, while McCain will fly in Friday afternoon for a private fundraiser (the candidate will hold a public event in Aspen in August).

The meeting at the private residence is closed to the public, according to campaign staffers.

The U.S. Secret Service requested assistance from the Aspen Police Department and the Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office, both of which will deploy officers and deputies to aid federal agents protecting both dignitaries, according to Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis.

McCain will not spend the night in Aspen.

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Staff at The Aspen Institute, where the Dalai Lama will speak to a symposium audience Friday and to an audience of nearly 4,000 on Saturday, were careful to distance themselves from the political visit.

“All we know is that the meeting is to be held at a private home in Aspen [on Friday],” Jim Spiegelman, vice president of communications and public affairs with the institute, wrote in an e-mail. “McCain’s visit has nothing whatever to do with our Celebration of Tibetan Culture now under way on the Aspen Meadows campus and we are not at all involved in their meeting.”

Recent reports show McCain gaining in the polls over Democratic Party candidate Barack Obama in the hotly contested state of Colorado. And McCain’s visit comes just weeks before the Summer Olympics in Beijing, an event that has shined a spotlight on the volatile issue of Tibetan autonomy.

In the past, dignitary meetings with the Dalai Lama have been perceived as a slight by Chinese officials, who do not recognize the Dalai Lama’s authority.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama fled his native Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He remains immensely popular among Tibetans, despite persistent efforts by Beijing to demonize him.

China claims Tibet has been its territory for centuries, but many Tibetans say they were effectively independent for most of that period. The Dalai Lama insists he wants “real autonomy,” not independence for Tibet.

Orville Schell, an expert on U.S.-China relations with the Asia Society who is in Aspen for the Tibetan symposium, said Friday’s scheduled meeting could be controversial.

“It’s potentially quite incendiary,” Schell said. “I would think [McCain] would want to tread carefully there.”

Schell said that it is possible that McCain has informed Chinese officials of his plans to meet with the Tibetan leader in exile, and said if McCain is careful he could use the meeting to his advantage.

Schell added that it is a seminal moment in the history of relations between China and Tibet, and that McCain’s meeting with the Dalai Lama could be construed as allying with Republicans who have an “anti-Communist” take on China, rather than those in his party who believe in working with the Chinese.

McCain’s stop in Aspen comes just days after His Majesty King Abdullah II of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan spoke at The Aspen Institute before returning to Jordan to meet with Obama, who was crisscrossing the Middle East as part of his campaign.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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