ABC News’ John R. Parkinson (@JRPabcDC) reports:
House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi welcomed the Dalai Lama to the Capitol Thursday, praising his commitment to spread freedom throughout the world while highlighting his unique historical relationship with the United States.
“It’s truly an honor and a privilege to welcome the Dalai Lama to the United States Capitol,” Boehner, R-Ohio, said. “The bond between the Dalai Lama and the American people has been strong for so long that it’s no surprise that he – his visits are highly anticipated, and I think rightly so.”
“Wherever he goes the Dalai Lama makes his tireless dedications to the values that we all cherish. He makes them apparent and he makes it a bit contagious. His example humbles nations such as ours that work to spread freedom, tolerance and respect for human dignity, and it sustains those who struggle to secure these universal values for themselves and for their families,” Boehner said. “We appreciate that the Dalai Lama is taking time to speak with us about how we can help spread our shared values, not just in Tibet and China, but the Middle East as well. We extend to you, your holiness, on behalf of the people that we serve our solidarity, our support and our hope that you’ll come back soon.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., said she agreed with Boehner that the Dalai Lama is “the source of understanding.”
“I’m very proud of the fact that we’ve come together under the dome of the Capitol a number of times to honor his Holiness,” Pelosi said. “It is with great admiration — even I would say affection — and really a great historic honor to join our distinguished Speaker, our colleagues in a bipartisan way to welcome his Holiness once again to the Capitol of the United States.”
Pelosi recalled that the Dalai Lama’s association with the U.S. and its presidents “goes way back.”
“President George Walker Bush in 2007 was present to present to his holiness the Congressional Gold Medal. At that time he did so honoring the commitment of his holiness to peace, to non-violence, to human rights and to religious understanding,” Pelosi said. “When he was a very little boy and first became the Dalai Lama, President Franklin Roosevelt sent him a watch recognizing his love – even as a little boy – for science and technology.”
“It was a watch that had the phases of the moon on it, and it’s always a source of great pride to us that this relationship between our two countries and leaders goes back so far,” she added.
When it became his turn to speak, the Dalai Lama, who just celebrated his 76th birthday, joked that he had nothing to say, and then explained his recent decision to hand over political authority to China and step down as Tibet’s exiled political leader.
“The main reason I believe the country ruled by kings or queens or religious leaders – they’re outdated,” the Dalai Lama said. “And in fact, the religious institution [and] political institution must be separate.”
“I really felt now is the right time,” he added. “So therefore, I have full confidence now they can take full responsibility — the elected leadership, by the people themselves — so they can carry full responsibility.”
As the meeting ended, Boehner stumbled behind the podium as he directed the Dalai Lama out of the room. The Dalai Lama took Boehner’s hand and the two exited the room arm-in-arm.
The Dalai Lama is in Washington to take part in an ancient Buddhist ritual and a call for world peace. It is possible that he will meet with President Obama at the White House, although he has never been welcomed into the Oval Office.
The Dalai Lama's last visit to the U.S. capital in February 2010 caused a diplomatic spat between the U.S. and China when he met with the president at the White House. The Chinese argue that the Dalai Lama is a dangerous "separatist" who wishes to sever Tibet from China.