World powers on Friday praised China's decision to hold talks with representatives of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, following the recent unrest in Tibet.
China is prepared to talk with representatives of the exiled Dalai Lama
French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the move as a "major step." The United States welcomed the decision, saying it was "pleased" and Germany and Japan also heralded the new sign of movement toward easing tensions in Tibet.
"It's a major step. The resumption of dialog carries some real hope," Sarkozy said in a statement, one day after declaring that he had been "shocked" by events in Tibet where there has been a crackdown on anti-China protests.
"France was heavily mobilized to help bring about the conditions for a resumption of dialog between the Chinese authorities and the Dalai Lama," the president told reporters during a visit to Monaco.
Sarkozy's diplomatic advisor, Jean-David Levitte, was in China Friday for talks with top Chinese officials, aimed at easing tensions over Tibet and the Beijing Olympics.
The French president had previously indicated that he might stay away from the August 8 Olympic Games opening ceremony in Beijing unless China opened talks with the Dalai Lama over the recent unrest.
"China and the representatives of the Dalai Lama are showing their desire to move towards a permanent solution that would allow Tibetans to feel they can live out their cultural and spiritual identity within the People's Republic of China," Sarkozy said in the statement.
Asked whether he would attend the ceremony, Sarkozy replied: "I will make a decision based on how the dialog evolves."
US, Germany herald potential breakthrough
In Washington, the White House celebrated China's announcement that it would hold talks with a "private representative" of the Dalai Lama.
Bush is one of those who have entertained the Dalai Lama
"We are pleased to hear this," US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, adding that President George W. Bush applauded the efforts of both sides to find a solution and commended those involved in restarting the dialog. "We welcome the news that the Chinese authorities will engage with the Dalai Lama's representatives."
Germany lauded the breakthrough and was also quick to highlight the importance of China's move. "We emphatically welcome this step," foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger told a news conference. "We hope very much that this can contribute to resolving the conflict in Tibet."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had telephoned his Chinese counterpart Yang Jiechi three times in recent weeks about the issue and pressed for talks, Jaeger added.
Praise also came Friday from Roland Koch, the premier of the state of Hesse, one of Germany's most prominent backers of the Dalai Lama. He described the move as "an important and hopeful sign."
"It shows that what is said by way of world public opinion is taken seriously by the Chinese government," he said.
Michael Vesper, director general of the German Olympic sports association DOSB, said, "This is exactly the right way to deal with this problem."
A first important step
Barroso was encouraged by his talks on Tibet in China
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso, who is in Beijing, said: "We are of course very happy with this announcement." His words were echoed by the Slovenian EU Presidency which issued a statement which acclaimed the Chinese announcement.
In Tokyo, Japan's Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura complimented China and Tibet on the breakthrough and said the talks could be crucial first step to resolving the tension.
French activist Robert Menard, who has played a key role in worldwide protests on the Beijing Olympic torch relay over China's action in Tibet and its rights record, also said dialog was an important move in the right direction.
Menard, founder of Reporters Without Borders, plans to demonstrate at the relay Saturday in the Japanese mountain town of Nagano but said he preferred dialog to demonstrations.
Discussions could end Olympic protests
Protests may end depending on the outcome of talks
"Bravo," said Menard of China's decision. "No one's going to interfere in China's internal affairs. If we finally get to that point and there's dialog, I'd be very pleased," he told reporters in Tokyo. "If tomorrow there are serious decisions, we'll stop. We don't want to demonstrate just for the sake of demonstrating."
Menard and two others disrupted the flame-lighting ceremony in Greece by unfurling a protest banner, setting the stage for demonstrations throughout the torch relay.
China has come under intense foreign pressure to hold talks with the Dalai Lama since rioting erupted in the regional capital Lhasa last month, spreading to other areas populated by Tibetans.
Beijing's crackdown in the Himalayan region, as well as its human rights record, have triggered protests that have dogged the Olympic torch as it travels the world before the Games in August.
Exiled Tibetan leaders say the Chinese crackdown last month left more than 150 people dead. Beijing insists it acted with restraint, killing no one, and blames Tibetan "rioters" for the deaths of 20 people.