Bush: Politics Not a Factor in Olympics

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The White House said Thursday that China's crackdown in Tibet is not cause for President Bush to cancel his attendance at the Beijing Olympics.

At the same time, the administration interceded in behalf of Tibetan protesters and requested a firsthand look at how Chinese police were dealing with them.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi Wednesday night for about 20 minutes, urging restraint and also Chinese talks with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetans' spiritual leader.

Presidential spokeswoman Dana Perino said Bush's position was that the Olympics "should be about the athletes and not necessarily about politics."

She said that Bush, in accepting the invitation last year from Chinese President Hu Jintao to attend the Olympics, told him that the games would "shine a spotlight on all things Chinese."

"That's not necessarily a bad thing," Perino added.

Bush agreed to go to the Olympics during a meeting with Hu in Australia last September during the Asia Pacific Economic Council meeting. A White House spokesman said at the time that Bush was going to the games for the sports and not for any political statement.

Protests against Chinese rule in Tibet have drawn a harsh response from Beijing. Authorities say 325 people have been injured and 16 people died.

Rice called Foreign Minister Yang as China sent additional troops into restive areas and made more arrests in the Tibetan capital Lhasa.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the administration was not "calling into question" reports of tough action against Tibetan protesters. But he said, "We don't have a clear understanding of exactly what has happened and what is going on in those areas."

"We have requested access to those areas, including Lhasa, so that we can have our own on-the-ground assessment of what has happened and what is ongoing," McCormack added.

So far, the spokesman said, the Chinese government has not granted the request.

The European Union spoke out Thursday against any boycott, saying it would be counterproductive to efforts to improve human rights in China.

"Boycotting the XXIX Olympiad is not the right answer to the current political problems," said a statement from Slovenia, which holds the EU's rotating presidency. "A boycott could signify actually losing an opportunity to promote human rights and could, at the same time, cause considerable harm to the population of China as a whole."

The statement follows a meeting of EU sports ministers in Slovenia on Monday where several nations rejected calls for a boycott over China's human rights record.

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Associated Press White House Correspondent Terence Hunt contributed to this report.

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