US President Barack Obama has met with the Dalai Lama at the White House, despite warnings from China that the meeting would "seriously damage" relations between the two countries.

China described the meeting as a gross interference by the US in its internal affairs.

The White House banned media coverage of the meeting, with only one official picture released.

A spokesman defended the decision saying Mr Obama had met the Dalai Lama in his capacity as an internationally respected religious and cultural leader.

White House spokesman Jay Carney rejected claims that the media had been banned from covering the event because of Chinese pressure.

The Chinese had earlier warned the US against holding such a meeting, with a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman saying the meeting was a gross interference in China's internal affairs and a serious violation of the norms of international relations, adding that it would seriously damage Sino-US relations.

But the meeting took place, with President re-iterating his strong support for the preservation of Tibet's unique religious, cultural and linguistic traditions.

A spokesperson for Mr Obama said he told the Dalai Lama that the US supported his "middle way" approach, that Tibet should not be assimilated into China, but neither should it seek independence.

He also urged the Chinese to engage in dialogue with the Dalai Lama and his representatives.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Yesui summoned the US charge d'affaires tonight to protest the meeting, state media reported.

"China expresses strong indignation and firm opposition," Mr Zhang told Daniel Kritenbrink, according to the Xinhua news agency.