President Bush defended the awarding Wednesday of the nation’s top civilian honor to the Dalai Lama, the exiled religious leader of Tibet, and said that he will challenge Chinese leaders to support religious freedom during the award ceremony.
“I admire the Dalai Lama a lot. … I support religious freedom,” Bush said in a short-notice press conference at the White House.
Bush also said he had personally spoken with Chinese President Hu Jintao to say he would be attending the Congressional Gold Medal ceremony for the Dalai Lama, and Bush said the Chinese would be better off having diplomatic relations with the Tibetan leader.
“I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation’s interest. I’ve also told them that I think it’s in their interest to meet with the Dalai Lama and will say so at the ceremony today in Congress,” Bush said.