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Dalai Lama Awarded Congressional Gold Medal Despite Chinese Protests

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal Wednesday - the highest civilian honor Congress can bestow - despite opposition from China's government. Experts examine the Dalai Lama's iconic legacy and assess China's reaction.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, a day of honor for the Dalai Lama. Ray Suarez begins our coverage with a look at what happened today in Washington.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    Equal parts spiritual figure and international sensation, the Dalai Lama came to the U.S. Capitol today to receive Congress's highest honor.

    REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), Speaker of the House: President Roosevelt gave the Dalai Lama a gold watch. Today, President Bush will give him the Congressional Gold Medal.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    President Bush joined leaders of both houses in celebrating the life and work of the 72-year-old Tibetan Buddhist leader. Tenzin Gyatso is the 14th Dalai Lama, a position of paramount religious importance to Tibet's Buddhists that traces its lineage to the 14th century.

    Today, he spoke of his mission to promote nonviolence and religious understanding in the 21st century.

  • THE DALAI LAMA:

    It is a conviction in these values that gives me powerful motivation to promote basic human values.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    The Dalai Lama has lived in exile since 1959, mostly in neighboring India. China has ruled Tibet since invading the mountain nation in 1951. The Dalai Lama received the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize and remains spiritual leader to Tibet's six million Buddhists and millions more worldwide.

    But amid the pomp came an important, dissenting opinion. The decision by Congress to honor the Dalai Lama, supported by President Bush, has enraged China. The Dalai Lama said China ought not fear him, but rather work with him to resolve tensions.

  • THE DALAI LAMA:

    Sometimes Chinese accuse us that we are an instrument of Western, anti-Chinese forces. I don't think. To you, my American friends, I appeal to you to making every effort to seek ways to help convince the Chinese leadership of my sincerity and help make our dialogue process move forward.

  • RAY SUAREZ:

    In deference to Chinese sensibilities, a meeting at the White House yesterday between the president, the first lady, and the Dalai Lama was neither photographed nor held in the Oval Office. At a press conference this morning, the president defended the award, the recipient, and his own participation.

    GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States: I told the Chinese president, President Hu, that I was going to go to the ceremony. I brought it up, and I said, "I'm going because I want to honor this man."

    I have consistently told the Chinese that religious freedom is in their nation's interest. I don't think it's going to severely damage relations. As a matter of fact, I don't think it ever damages relations when an American president talks about, you know, religious tolerance and religious freedom is good for a nation.

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