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OTTAWA (Reuters) - When Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to explain in a year-end interview why he'd met the Dalai Lama in his Ottawa office, it was clear he wanted to show respect for the exiled Tibetan leader.
Unfortunately, it didn't quite come out that way.
"I met the Dalai Lama in my office but I meet everyone in my office. I don't know why I would sneak off to a hotel room just to meet the Dalai Lama. You know, he's not a call girl," Harper told OMNI television.
He quickly added: "As I say, he's a respected international spiritual leader."
China condemns the Dalai Lama as a separatist and presses world leaders to shun him. German Chancellor Angela Merkel met him in September, but only in private, and last month the Vatican called off a meeting with the Pope set for December 13.
Harper is a strong critic of China's human rights record and what he calls the "undemocratic regime" in Beijing.
China condemned Harper for "disgusting conduct" in late October after he met the Dalai Lama in his parliamentary office with television cameras and photographers present.
The Dalai Lama -- who fled his predominantly Buddhist homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Communist rule -- was granted honorary Canadian citizenship in June.
Harper's chief spokeswoman did not respond to a query as to whether the prime minister regretted his choice of words in the interview, which took place on Tuesday but was embargoed until Thursday.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Peter Galloway