WASHINGTON -- The State Department said Friday that it expects China to quickly provide travel documents to blind human rights activist Chen Guangcheng, easing a weeklong crisis between Beijing and Washington over the fate of the long-imprisoned lawyer.
Victoria Nuland, the chief State Department spokeswoman, said in a statement that China has signaled that it will approve Chen's application to travel to the United States with his family so that he can accept a temporary fellowship at a university and receive medical treatment.
"The Chinese government has indicated that it will accept Mr. Chen's application for appropriate travel documents. The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his application for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition," Nuland said in the statement. She said the U.S. government would give "priority attention" to visa requests for Chen and his family.
Chen, held for months under house arrest in his rural hometown, set off an international diplomatic crisis last month by escaping and seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. He appeared to accept a U.S.-negotiated deal to remain in China on Wednesday, repudiated it hours later, and then appeared to reverse himself again on Thursday.
He told a congressional panel in a phone call Thursday afternoon that he wanted to travel to the United States for only several months, and then return to China, a compromise that appears to have the blessing of Chinese officials. Yet activists and experts caution that it remains to be seen whether China will follow through on its promises to the United States to allow Chen freedom to pursue his studies and continue his political activism.
Nuland's statement didn't say which university Chen planned to work with. But Jerome Cohen, a law school professor at New York University, said Thursday that his school would offer Chen a role if he were able to make it to the United States.
The U.S. statement was another sign of the Obama administration's eagerness to wrap up an impasse that has strained relations with China at a moment when both countries are coming through political transitions. Many Chinese officials have been upset by what they see as U.S. meddling, and Republicans and human rights advocates have criticized the administration for what they see as its heavy-handed diplomacy.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner wrapped up two days of high-level talks in Beijing on Friday. Though U.S. and Chinese officials made clear in the talks that they weren't happy with the way the other country was handling the Chen affair, Clinton said afterward that officials had made progress in the economic and strategic discussions.
-- Paul Richter