By Amie Parnes and Meghashyam Mali - 05/04/12 01:10 PM EDT
A Chinese dissident has been given a fellowship at a university in the United States and will be allowed to leave China with his wife and two children, providing a possible solution to a diplomatic crisis for President Obama.
The Chinese government is expected to arrange travel procedures for Chen Guangcheng, according to Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokeswoman.
“The United States government expects that the Chinese government will expeditiously process his applications for these documents, and make accommodations for his current medical condition,” Nuland said.
The development comes hours after Secretary of State Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonClinton and Trump need to address healthcare in next debate Democrats target Libertarian ticket Why Obama needs PhRMA MORE said the United States was working with Chen to help with his plans and that U.S. Embassy officials had the chance to meet with him at the hospital where he has been staying.
At the same time, Chinese officials on Friday said dissident Chen — who has been at the center of a diplomatic controversy — could apply for permission to study abroad.
Liu Weimin, spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said that if Chen wanted to study abroad he could “apply through normal channels to the relevant departments in accordance with the law, just like any other Chinese citizen,” reports The New York Times.
Having Chen exit for a U.S. university could provide the face-saving exit from the diplomatic standoff that has embarrassed both the Obama administration and Beijing.
Allowing Chen to study abroad would allow the prominent human-rights activist to leave the country in the same manner as thousands of Chinese each year.
Chen, who was under house arrest, fled captivity last week, seeking refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.
On Wednesday, Chen left the U.S. Embassy, under a deal between U.S. and Chinese officials by which he would be allowed to live with his family and receive regular contact with U.S. diplomats.
But the deal quickly unraveled after Chen said his family had been threatened by Chinese officials and that he wanted to leave the country.
The administration's handling of the matter came under fire from Republican lawmakers and likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney.
At a campaign event in Virginia, Romney hammered the administration, calling it a “dark day for freedom” and “a day of shame for the Obama administration.”
Romney said the “embassy failed to put in place the kind of verifiable measures that would have assured the safety of Mr. Chen and his family.”
Administration officials, though, say they did not encourage Chen to leave the embassy and stay in China.
Chen also called into a congressional hearing on Thursday, from the hospital in Beijing where he was admitted after leaving the embassy, telling lawmakers he wanted a meeting with Secretary Clinton.
“I hope I can get more help from her,” said Chen. “I also want to thank her face to face.”
Reports say it is unclear if China would approve an application for Chen to exit the country and study or work overseas at a university. Chinese citizens with criminal convictions often fail to qualify for exit visas.
Chen served four years in prison after he was convicted in 2006 on charges of damaging property and organizing public disorder, which supporters say were trumped up in response to Chen's opposition to China's one-child policy.
This story was posted at 5:54 a.m. and updated at 9:10 a.m.