When word of Chen's arrival reached Washington, Clinton immediately dispatched top officials, including Campbell and State Department counsel Harold Koh, to lead the negotiations. According to the account provided here, it was an intense and deeply personal process of working with the fugitive once he arrived at the embassy on Thursday, April 26; Chen, who is blind, held Campbell by one hand and Koh by another at various points.
In the end, the deal they negotiated seemed to offer Chen promises, but no real guarantees. As outlined by the Americans, it included the following: a promise not only to reunite Chen with his wife and two children but also that he "will be treated humanely," that U.S officials would have access to him in the hospital; that he would ultimately be "relocated to a safe environment," and would have the opportunity to attend a university to continue his self-guided studies in law. There was no word on the other human rights activists who have apparently been rounded up in recent days after helping Chen's escape; only the American officials urging the authorities "to take no retribution" against them.
"We think we have helped to secure for him a better future," said one of the U.S. officials involved.
Still, it's a deal that's sure to be second-guessed and parsed endlessly, and one that risks alienating both the Chinese, who, angered by the incident, put out a statement on the news agency Xinhua demanding an American apology (one was not forthcoming) and human rights advocates, who may fear that the guarantees to Chen are not sufficient.
For Clinton, too, it was an important moment, and she will have to balance on this trip her stature as a human rights icon -- during Clinton's phone call with Chen, the U.S. official said, they discussed Clinton's longtime support for Burmese dissident Aung San Suu Kyi -- with the more measured tone on such issues she has taken while serving as Secretary of State. Clinton -- whose most famous speech as first lady was a rousing address in Beijing labeling women's rights as human rights -- was widely criticized when she made her first trip here in 2009 as secretary of state for appearing to dismiss human rights as just another pro forma issue but since then she has spoken out repeatedly on such issues. She mentioned Chen's case by name as recently as November.
Apparently, the officials said today, Chen had heard of Clinton's appeal on his behalf, even locked away in his remote village.