U.S.-China deal sours now that activist Chen Guangcheng wants out

In this photo released by the US Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, left, is helped by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, right, and U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke as they leave the U.S. Embassy for a hospital in Beijing Wednesday May 2, 2012. AP Photo/US Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO

Updated 9:39 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) BEIJING - A cloud hung over annual talks between the United States and China on Thursday as a blind Chinese dissident who took refuge in the U.S. Embassy appealed to Washington for more help, saying from his hospital room in Beijing that he now fears for his family's safety unless they are all spirited abroad.

China already demanded an apology from the U.S. even before Chen Guangcheng balked at a deal in which he would remain in his homeland. Now that he wants to leave, the case could overshadow talks in which Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner are to discuss foreign policy and economic issues with their Chinese counterparts.

After six days holed up in the U.S. Embassy, as senior officials in Beijing and Washington tussled over his fate, Chen left the compound's protective confines Wednesday for a nearby hospital for treatment of a leg injury suffered in his escape. A shaken Chen told The Associated Press from his hospital room that Chinese authorities had warned he would lose his opportunity to be reunited with his family if he stayed longer in the embassy.

U.S. officials verified that account. But they adamantly denied his contention that one American diplomat had warned him of a threat from the Chinese that his wife would be beaten to death if he did not get out of the embassy.

"I think we'd like to rest in a place outside of China," Chen told the AP, appealing again for help from Washington. "Help my family and me leave safely."

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Only hours earlier, U.S. officials said they had extracted from the Chinese government a promise that Chen would join his family and be allowed to start a new life in a university town in China, safe from the rural authorities who had abusively held him in prison and house arrest for nearly seven years.

Chris Johnson, who until two weeks ago was the CIA's top China analyst, told CBS News that the deal was likely to break down and was therefore a mistake for the Americans to make.

"In terms of trying to somehow negotiate with the Chinese a means to guarantee his safety within China, there's just too much chance that the Chinese regime would renege and then the administration would look terrible," Johnson said.

Clinton spoke to Chen on the phone when he left the embassy and, in a statement, welcomed the resettlement agreement as one that "reflected his choices and our values."

But the murky circumstances of Chen's departure from the embassy, and his sudden appeal to leave China after declaring he wanted to stay, again threatened to overshadow talks that were to focus on the global economic crisis and hotspots such as North Korea, Iran, Syria and Sudan.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry signaled its unhappiness with the entire affair, demanding that the U.S. apologize for giving Chen sanctuary at the embassy. (Watch the CBS Evening News report at left on China's displeasure with the way the U.S. handled this case.)

"What the U.S. side should do now is neither to continue misleading the public and making every excuse to shift responsibility and conceal its wrongdoing, nor to interfere in the domestic affairs of China," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said late Wednesday in a statement that was a response to comments from Clinton praising the deal on Chen.

Chen, 40, became an international human rights figure and inspiration to many ordinary Chinese after running afoul of local government officials for exposing forced abortions carried out as part of China's one-child policy. He served four years in prison on what supporters said were fabricated charges, then was kept under house arrest with his wife, daughter and mother, with the adults often being roughed up by officials and his daughter searched and harassed.

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