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WASHINGTON (AP) The White House defended its decision Friday to bar reporters and photojournalists from a meeting between President Barack Obama and the Dalai Lama, while acknowledging the news media's legitimate interest in covering the two leaders' encounter.

Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama drew harsh criticism from China even before the meeting took place, and the White House appeared to be taking steps to keep it low-key to avoid further aggravating Beijing. Obama hosted the Dalai Lama in the White House's Map Room, rather than the Oval Office, where the president traditionally brings a visiting leader for a photo.

At the same time, after declining media requests to photograph the meeting, the White House released its own photograph of the meeting produced by an official government photographer.

White House spokesman Jay Carney said he understood the media's interest in covering the meeting with the Dalai Lama, a prominent world figure. But he said the decision not to allow access was consistent with past meetings Obama has held with the Buddhist monk.

Carney said it was the Dalai Lama's choice to depart the White House without speaking to reporters who had gathered in anticipation that he might make some remarks.

The decision comes amid growing media protests about limited access to Obama's events, and questions about the lack of coverage of the meeting dominated Friday's daily White House briefing.

"We have been working, as you know, to provide more access to photographers as well as to all of you," Carney told reporters. "In this case, we weren't able to do that, but we have been working on that effort."

Dozens of leading news organizations, including The Associated Press, have protested restrictions that sometimes keep journalists from taking pictures and video of Obama performing official duties while the White House releases pictures taken by the president's staff. In recent weeks, the White House has taken some steps intended to address those concerns, including allowing journalists traveling with Obama aboard Air Force One to photograph the president while he signed an executive order.