U.S. officials say they are trying to meet again with Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, who left the U.S. embassy in Beijing Wednesday and is now requesting a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Confusion over Chen's case comes as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in China for security and economic talks.
Deputy State Department spokesman Mark Toner says U.S. officials spoke with Chen twice on the telephone Thursday and met in person with his wife but are still seeking another face-to-face meeting with the blind activist.
"Again, I don't have any further information except that it's our desire to meet with him in the days going forward," said Toner.
A senior State Department official says there are "some indications" that U.S. officials will be able to see Chen on Friday.
Chen left the U.S. embassy Wednesday with a deal allowing for the relocation of his family and his ability to study law at a university in China. But that began to unravel within hours.
Chen told foreign journalists in phone conversations that he now wants asylum in the United States for himself and his family because he no longer believes his rights and safety can be assured in China.
Toner says it is unclear why Chen has had this change of heart.
"I can just say that we are engaged with him going forward and trying to work out where he is in his own mind," he said.
Chen, who is self-taught in law, spent four years in prison after exposing forced abortions and sterilizations by Chinese family planning authorities. He'd been confined to his home following his release from jail in September 2010.
The drama of his escape from house arrest, his secret arrival at the U.S. embassy, and the deal allowing for his departure on top of this new request for asylum has overshadowed talks between Chinese and U.S. officials including Secretary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
Toner says it shows the strength of relations between the United States and China to be able to deal with what he calls "these very difficult issues over the last few days" while maintaining focus on global concerns including Syria, Sudan, North Korea, and Iran.
"We have a relationship with China that is extremely broad, extremely cross-cutting," he said. "The secretary and the president have all said how important this relationship is strategically whether it be Iran, whether it be working on other issues of vital importance in the international arena. And we are going to continue to pursue those."
As the strategic and economic dialogue moves forward, Toner says the United States will not shy away from raising human rights issues in China.