The Dalai Lama praised American democracy and said he thinks President Obama is realistic and open, in an exclusive interview with FOX News during his five-city tour of the United States.

The Tibetan spiritual leader, in addition to discussing the value of kindness and compassion, spoke of his admiration for the United States.

"I think basically America is a champion of freedom, democracy, liberty," he said before a series of lectures at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "Occasionally the administration neglects these principles, but overall, I think these principles are very much alive in this country."

It still is unclear whether he will have an opportunity to meet with President Obama this fall when he visits Washington D.C.

"He seems, I think, very realistic, very open," the Dalai Lama said, "and he always reaches out to other people, even though some people create some problems. He always reaches out. That's, I think, wonderful. Very good."

The Dalai Lama has visited the U.S. many times and met with the last three U.S. presidents but always in an unofficial capacity — never in the Oval Office.

But the Dalai Lama said official or unofficial doesn't matter to him.

"In what form, I don't care. Important thing is, meet. Talk. That's important."

The possibility of a meeting comes amid continuing warnings from China, including as recently as Thursday, suggesting that the Obama administration should not meet with the exiled Tibetan leader, whom China has described as a separatist.

"That's quite routine. Nothing special," laughed the Dalai Lama, who has not been back to his native Tibet since he fled in 1959, nine years after Chinese troops seized control of the region. Since then, the Tibetan people and culture, he says, have been living under a "death sentence" as the communist government tries to erase it altogether.

In light of the global economic crisis, some believe the Chinese government is exercising more influence over other nations than ever before and that economic pressure might succeed in stifling the Dalai Lama's message.

"Certain principles, such as human rights, democracy, rule of law, freedom and openness, these things are principle matters. If you (believe) money is more important than these principles, then that is morally wrong. We must stand firm on these principle matters."

As for threats from China, the spiritual leader pointed out that past warnings proved to have no teeth.

"Look, the meeting with the German chancellor, the Chinese government was furious, and some programs were cancelled. Then meeting with French president, also similar. Then after a few months, nothing happened," he said.

On the global economic downturn, he said there is a positive side — if one is willing to recognize it.

"I think the global economic crisis, in a way, is good, to teach people who usually see their luxurious way of life. Now, I think it reminds people there are limitations. It's unrealistic to always expect grow, grow, grow, grow," he said.

As a final gesture, the FOX News crew presented the Dalai Lama with a FOX News mug. He promptly held it up, smiled and insisted he be photographed holding it.

From Santa Barbara, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to travel to Berkeley, Calif., and then on to Boston and New York.