WASHINGTON — The United States risked inflaming a row on multiple fronts with China Thursday, saying the Dalai Lama would visit the White House later this month despite Beijing's fierce protests.
But as tensions built over President Barack Obama's planned welcome for Tibet's spiritual leader, officials sought to douse a running row with Beijing, saying the two sides had common interests despite mounting disagreements.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs was pressed by reporters to name the date when the Dalai Lama would make his long-expected White House visit.
"He will be here later this month," Gibbs said, but could not be more precise, adding he did not know if the Dalai Lama would be granted the potent symbolism of an Oval Office visit with a media availability.
US presidents have sometimes used a diplomatic tactic known as a "drop by" to see leaders or dignitaries likely to anger or embarrass key foreign powers, fitting in a visit in between scheduled talks between the visitor and another top official.
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As China mounts fierce advance protests against the visit, Gibbs said Obama had informed Chinese President Hu Jintao when they met in Beijing in November that he would go ahead with the meeting.
Obama had declined to meet the Dalai Lama, who was in the United States late last year, before going to China, in an apparent bid to get his ties with Beijing off on the right foot.
The Chinese government on Wednesday said it "resolutely opposes" the Dalai Lama's visit to the United States and any of his meetings with US leaders.
"We urge the US side to clearly recognize the high sensitivity of the Tibet issue and handle related issues carefully and appropriately to avoid causing more harm to Sino-US ties," said Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.
The Dalai Lama, who fled to exile in India in 1959, says he is seeking greater rights for Tibetans within Chinese rule, but Beijing accuses him of separatism.
The United States says it regards Tibet as part of China, but accuses Beijing of serious human rights abuses in the region.
Gibbs also sought to downplay the current back-and-forth between Beijing and Washington, adding that all the issues being aired publicly, had been talked over in private between the two sides.
"There will be issues that we will disagree on, and we will disagree on them both in private and in public," Gibbs said. "We envision this relationship as one where we can work together on issues of mutual concern.
"We've worked together on stabilizing the world economy. We've worked together on issues of proliferation, particularly around North Korea."
Gibbs also said he thought China would stay focused on Iran's nuclear challenge, despite Beijing's open skepticism over the prospect of new sanctions.
"I think the Chinese will continue to work with us on the important next steps that we have to take regarding Iran," he said, adding that to do so was in China's national security interest.
Earlier, in Paris, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said China would not join the United States, France and other Western powers in calling for sanctions against Iran for its refusal to stop enriching uranium.
"This talk of sanctions at this moment will complicate the situation and stand in the way of finding a diplomatic solution," Yang said at a public appearance at a French think tank.
The United States and allies fear Iran is using an uranium enrichment drive to secretly develop fissile material for nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies.
At the State Department, spokesman Philip Crowley said China and the United States saw "eye to eye" on tackling North Korea's nuclear defiance, despite tensions on other issues.
"I don't think the evidence supports that," Crowley said when a reporter suggested tensions could undermine six-party talks on North Korea.
On Wednesday, Obama sparked China's ire by saying his administration had decided to get "much tougher" about enforcement of existing trade rules.
Beijing hit back, saying "wrongful accusations and pressure will not help solve the issue."
Last week, China reacted furiously when Washington signed off on a huge arms shipment for nationalist Taiwan.
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