- Associated Press - Monday, April 30, 2012

BEIJING — U.S. and Chinese officials are ironing out a deal to secure American asylum for a blind Chinese legal activist who fled house arrest, and an agreement is likely before Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrives this week, a U.S. rights campaigner said Monday.

Bob Fu of the Texas-based rights group ChinaAid said China and the United States want to reach agreement on the fate of Chen Guangcheng before the annual high-level talks with Mrs. Clinton and other U.S. officials begin in Beijing on Thursday.

“The Chinese top leaders are deliberating a decision to be made very soon, maybe in the next 24 to 48 hours,” Mr. Fu said, citing a source close to the U.S. and Chinese governments.

Both sides are “eager to solve this issue,” said Mr. Fu, whose advocacy group focuses on the rights of Christians in China and who maintains a network of contacts in the country.

“It really depends on China’s willingness to facilitate Chen’s exit,” he added.

Mr. Chen, a well-known dissident who angered authorities in rural China by exposing forced abortions, made a surprise escape from house arrest a week ago into what activists say is the protection of U.S. diplomats in Beijing, posing a delicate diplomatic crisis for both governments.

At a briefing in Washington on Monday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declined to comment on Mr. Chen’s case.

She gave the first U.S. government confirmation that Assistant Secretary of State Kurt M. Campbell is in Beijing but described his visit as preparation for Mrs. Clinton’s trip.

She said the U.S.-China Strategic Dialogue is planned to go ahead.

Both sides want the annual talks to provide ballast to a relationship that is often rocky and to provide ways of working out disputes on trade, Taiwan, Syria, Iran and North Korea.

In a video made after Mr. Chen escaped from his village and released on Friday, the activist makes no mention of wanting to go abroad.

Instead, he beseeches Premier Wen Jiabao to investigate the beatings, harassment and other mistreatment he says he, his wife and daughter suffered at the hands of local officials during 20 months of house arrest.

If Mr. Chen were willing to leave China, Washington could ill afford to turn him away. Mrs. Clinton and other senior officials have repeatedly raised his case in meetings with Chinese officials.

President Obama is already under fire from Republicans over a case in which an aide to a senior Chinese leader entered the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu but then left, turning himself over to Chinese investigators.

Mr. Chen enjoys broad sympathy among the Chinese public for persevering in his activism despite being blind and despite repeated reprisals from local officials.

The European Union also issued a statement Monday calling for China to extend legal protections to him, his family and supporters.

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