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Published: Wednesday, 2/24/2010

Obama was right to meet with the Dalai Lama

PRESIDENT Obama deserves praise for meeting with the Dalai Lama, the spiritual and, in effect, political leader of the world's 5.4 million Tibetans and many more Tibetan Buddhists.

The meeting at the White House amounted to a twisting of the tail of China, with whom the United States has a number of contentious issues. These include a provocative U.S. sale of $6.4 billion in high-tech arms to Taiwan; China's overvalued currency, which works to the disadvantage of U.S. trade, and China's resistance to the American campaign to apply further sanctions on Iran over concerns that its nuclear program is aimed at developing a weapon.

The irony of Mr. Obama meeting with the Tibetan leader is that he did it while his administration has yet to establish a meaningful dialogue with leaders of two key players in reaching a peace settlement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

The two key parties that Mr. Obama's negotiators pretend don't exist are Hamas and Hezbollah.

Hamas controls Gaza — 1.5 million Palestinians surrounded by Israel. Hamas won free and fair Palestinian elections in 2006. There will be no Middle East peace settlement without Hamas.

Hezbollah is dangerous, supported by Iran, and right across the Israeli border in Lebanon. It was strong enough to repel and survive an Israeli invasion in 2006.

Hamas and Hezbollah are key Middle East players, but the United States doesn't talk with them because the Israelis object.

Israel is an ally. China isn't an ally. The United States used to face the same nonsense from the British when they didn't want senior U.S. leaders to meet with Catholic Irish leaders.

The United States persisted, and eventually was able to play a useful role in the negotiation of the Good Friday accord of 1998 between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland. U.S. relationships with the Catholics helped facilitate the agreement. So why pay attention to Israeli opposition to constructive dialog with Hamas and Hezbollah?

We let the objections of London, a strong ally, roll off our backs as we talked to the Irish. There might be a case for not talking to the Tibetans, to court the Chinese with whom we have lots of differences, although I do not accept that argument.

But not talking to two key Middle East elements because our ally Israel wouldn't like it?

I don't see the logic of that policy.

Other recent big news that got little attention was the resignation of Yvo de Boer, executive secretary since 2006 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. His resignation was said to reflect his discouragement about the apparently waning prospects for an effective climate change treaty in the wake of the December Copenhagen summit.

The case for unified global action to reduce the human impact on climate change remains strong, although at least two factors are pushing the other way.

The first is the global recession. Climate change measures will cost money. The United States is down and out, though it seems to have plenty for wars.

How could big U.S. expenditures for a comprehensive anti-climate change program be justified with nearly 10 percent U.S. unemployment, reflecting a staggering U.S. economy, and big payouts continuing for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

The second incalculable factor affecting prospects for a climate change accord is the weather. Its unpredictability is attributed by some in part to global warming.

Here's a subversive thought: If glaciers, ice packs, and Canada's permanently frozen ground, known as permafrost, are moving northward, doesn't that mean that more land in our neighbor to the north, the host of the Olympics, will become habitable?

Man has been scooting around Earth in response to climate change since the beginning of time. Why not one more time? Why do we have to turn ourselves inside out to preserve the beach ront properties of Wall Street bankers in Florida, California, Cape Cod, or the Hamptons?

Let them move to James Bay in Canada.

Dan Simpson, a retired diplomat, is a member of the editorial boards of The Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

E-mail dsimpson@ post-gazette.com



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