Criticism for Sarkozy over Dalai Lama

Aug. 07, 2008, 2:07 p.m. (ET)

PARIS (AP) French President Nicolas Sarkozy's political opponents heaped criticism on him Thursday for avoiding a meeting with the Dalai Lama when the Tibetan spiritual leader comes to France this month.

Sarkozy had been under pressure from human rights groups to meet with the Dalai Lama - especially since the president backed down from a threat to boycott the opening of the Beijing Olympics over China's crackdown in Tibet earlier this year.

Sarkozy plans to attend the ceremony Friday.

The president's critics accused him of bowing to Chinese pressure and wanting to secure major Chinese contracts for French companies.

Sarkozy "has moved far away from the era of grand speeches" about human rights that he gave during his election campaign last year, Stephane Le Foll, a Socialist deputy in the European Parliament, said.

Another European Parliament member, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, said the French president was waging a "losing strategy" on China.

Cohn-Bendit says Sarkozy told him that he wanted to avoid provoking the Chinese during the Olympics in hope of making progress on human rights afterward, before a European Union-China summit in December.

Sarkozy "thinks he has a magic wand," Cohn-Bendit said in an interview on the news Web site rue89.

Cohn-Bendit is involved in the issue because he drew up a list of Chinese human rights defenders and prisoners that Europeans want to see freed. Sarkozy has submitted the list to Chinese authorities on behalf of the EU, the French Foreign Ministry said Thursday. France is currently president of the 27-nation EU.

A carefully worded statement from Sarkozy's office Wednesday suggested it was the Dalai Lama's decision, not Sarkozy's, to forego a meeting.

The Dalai Lama's representative in Paris gave a slightly different version.

Jampal Chosang said in a faxed statement Wednesday that the Dalai Lama "confirmed his wish to meet the president" and that Sarkozy has "expressed his wish to meet the Dalai Lama." Chosang said such talks would not take place during this month's France visit, but that his office was in contact with Sarkozy's office about arranging a meeting later this year.

The Dalai Lama begins an 11-day stay in France on Tuesday.

The spokesman for Sarkozy's political party, Frederic Lefebvre, raised the possibility that the men could nonetheless meet before the end of the year.

Sarkozy's office declined to comment on that possibility.