U.S. senators urge Bush to visit Tibet during Games
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of senior U.S. senators urged President George W. Bush on Friday to visit Tibet when he travels to China in August to attend the Beijing Olympics.
In their letter to Bush, the senators also urged the president to make it his priority to set up a U.S. consulate in the Tibetan regional capital, Lhasa, and push China to reopen Tibet to outside media and non-governmental organizations following its closure in the wake of unrest there in March.
Visiting Tibet during the August 8-24 games "would allow you to demonstrate support for American athletes as you also send a strong message of respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people," the letter said.
The letter was signed by Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California, Joseph Biden of Delaware and John Kerry of Massachusetts, as well as Republican Olympia Snowe of Maine. Biden and Boxer head key Senate foreign affairs panels.
The senators welcomed the resumption of talks this week between the Chinese government and representatives of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, but said "even this modest step would not have occurred without coordinated international pressure.
"Therefore, we believe we should redouble our efforts to encourage Beijing to reevaluate its entire approach to Tibet and adopt policies that respect the universal human rights of the Tibetan people," said the letter.
The Chinese crackdown on Tibet after deadly riots which China said killed 19 people sparked worldwide protests over Beijing's policies, including demonstrations that disrupted the Olympic torch procession in London and Paris.
Bush rebuffed calls to boycott the games or the opening ceremony, saying he viewed the event as a sporting contest and would use his special access as an invited guest of Chinese President Hu Jintao to raise U.S. concerns in private.
The White House has said Bush plans to attend the Beijing Olympics, without specifying the opening ceremony, which is intended to celebrate the athletic events but also provide a huge public relations boost for the host country.
It had no immediate response to the letter, but there has been no indication that Bush plans to travel elsewhere in China.
(Reporting by Paul Eckert; Editing by Eric Walsh)
(Take a look at the Countdown to Beijing blog at http://blogs.reuters.com/china )