WASHINGTON President Bush has said he plans to attend the Beijing Olympics, but the White House has not ruled out the possibility that he may miss the opening ceremony, which China hopes to use as an international showcase.
Critics of China say that Bush avoiding the event would be a powerful sign of international anger over China's violent response to demonstrating Buddhist monks in Tibet. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's spokeswoman said Wednesday that Brown will not attend the opening ceremony.
Over two days, White House press secretary Dana Perino has faced questions about Bush's attendance at the opening gala for games that China hopes to use to make a statement about its rising economic and political power. She says Bush will go to the Olympics.
But, pressed by reporters whether she could say if Bush will attend the opening ceremony, Perino said Wednesday, "I cannot."
She says the reason is not uncommon: "I'm not trying to signal anything by saying that. I don't have the president's schedule. It is way too far in advance for us to announce the president's schedule."
Perino said Bush "has been very clear that he believes that the right thing for him to do is to continue to press the Chinese on a range of issues, from human rights and democracy, political speech freedoms and religious tolerance, and to do that publicly and privately, before, during and after the Olympics."
Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Byrd and Robert Menendez sent Bush a letter Wednesday saying the crackdown in Tibet "should be unacceptable to anyone who believes in basic human freedoms."
"We believe that your attendance at the opening ceremonies, rightly or not, would send the implicit message to the world that the United State condones the intolerance that has been demonstrated by these actions of the Chinese government," the letter said.
Meanwhile, the House passed a resolution criticizing China for its crackdown on protesters in Tibet and urging Beijing to hold direct talks with the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan religious leader, on the future of the region.
The resolution also demanded that China release Tibetans imprisoned for participating in peaceful demonstrations and allow international monitors and journalists unfettered access to the Tibet Autonomous Region and other Tibetan areas of China. It passed 413 to 1.
The Senate later unanimously approved a similar resolution introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Gordon Smith, R-Ore. Both say the opening of further Chinese diplomatic missions in the United States should be contingent on Beijing allowing the United States to establish an office in Lhasa, Tibet's capital.
Meanwhile, Sen. Barack Obama on Wednesday joined Clinton in calling for Bush to boycott the opening ceremonies for the Olympic Games in Beijing. Clinton had commended Brown for announcing that he will skip the August ceremonies in China's capital, and called on Obama and likely Republican presidential nominee John McCain to join her in urging Bush to do the same.
Obama did later in the day; his campaign issued a statement in which, for the first time, he urged Bush to boycott the festivities.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told lawmakers Wednesday that the United States is looking at the possibility of a U.S. consulate in Tibet. She said the United States has urged China to allow more U.S. diplomats into the region, saying access granted by China so far was not good enough.
"The United States," she added, "has been very active in making the case to the Chinese that they are going to be better off to deal with moderate forces on Tibet like the Dalai Lama; that they should open dialogue with him."
Protesters around the world are trying to link China's poor human rights record to the staging of the Olympics. Demonstrations about Tibet have been held along the path of the Olympic torch in Paris and London. Officials in San Francisco urged demonstrators to remain peaceful during Wednesday's torch parade there.
China's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu condemned the House resolution, saying it "chooses to remain silent on the violence involved in beating, smashing up properties, looting and arson in Lhasa and the Dalai clique who premeditated and organized the criminal act of violence."The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet after a failed uprising in 1959 but remains the religious and cultural leader of many Tibetans, has said he wants greater autonomy for the remote mountain region but is not seeking independence.
Associated Press writer Ben Feller contributed to this story.