The Dalai Lama still may be considered a god-king in exile by some of the 6 million Tibetans in the People's Republic of China, but he is persona non grata in Washington.
The State Department has issued a polite refusal to a request by the Tibetan spiritual leader's office in New York for permission for the Dalai Lama to visit this country, a department spokesman said yesterday.
One consequence of such a visit would be a diplomatic affront to the People's Republic of China.
State told the Tibetan "it would be inconvenient at this time," the spokesman said, adding that the decision "was based on a number of factors, but we're not specifying those factors."
The head of the Dalai Lama's New York office. Tinzin Tethong, said the decision reflects State's desire not to antagonize the Chinese.
"Since 1959, the Chinese have been very sensitive about anything related to Tibet," he said. "They have accused the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans outside Tibet of being a group of bandits, plotting to overthrow the Chinese, and of being reactionary elements."
Tibet, the small, mountainous region in central Asia isolated from the rest of the world by the peaks of the Himalayas, was occupied by the People's Republic in 1950. In 1959, the Tibetans unsuccessfully revolted against Chinese rule, and the Dalai Lama fled to India, where he still resides.
A spokesman for the Chinese liaison office here had no comment on the proposed visit or the U.S. refusal.
China protested vigorously to the State Department when a Tibetan folk dance group visited the United States in late 1975, and he expressed its unhappiness about the existence of the New York office.
That office has been operating since 1964, according to Tethong, and while not recognized by the State Department, it is registered as a foreign agent with the Justice Department.
Tethong said his office contacted State "some time ago" to probe its attitude about a possible visit. He said a number of American institutions - among them Harvard and Stanford universities, the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Wailua University of the Contemplative Arts in Hawaii - expressed interest in sponsoring appearances by the 42-year-old Dalai Lama.
Tethong said his office made no formal visa application. "A number of the universities are still pursuing" the possibility of a visit, he said, "because there has been no formal refusal."
Had the visit been approved, Tethong said the Dalai Lama would have confined himself to nonpolitical "cultural, educational and religious activities."
The Dalai Lama has never visited this country. A visa request in the late 1960s was turned down for reasons similar to those that led to the recent State Department decision, officials said.