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Blind activist Chen Guangcheng: 'I want to leave China on Hillary Clinton's plane'

The blind Chinese dissident also asked to live in the United States with his family, after the U.S. appeared to have brokered a deal that allowed him to stay in China. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.

UPDATED: 5:36 p.m. ET -- Blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng spoke on the telephone during a Congressional Executive Commission on China hearing, asking for help to leave China with his family.

Chen told the commission he would be in a much worse situation had he not been taken into the U.S. embassy, adding that he wanted to thank Secretary of State Hillary Clinton face to face.

Speaking through a translator, Chen said he is concerned about the safety of his mother and brothers, adding he would want to find out how they were doing.


Frantic efforts to resolve the diplomatic wrangle surrounding Chen continued in Beijing Thursday after he appealed for asylum following what was described as a "change of heart" over an earlier deal.

U.S. officials said they are still trying to help the lawyer, who says he fears for his family's safety, and denied he was pressured to leave the American Embassy to resettle inside China in exchange for guarantees about his future treatment.

Chen said by telephone from hospital, where he was escorted by U.S. officials and was being treated for a broken foot, that he had changed his mind about the resettlement deal after talking with his wife, who spoke of recent threats made against his family.

In a string of interviews, he said he now wants to leave China as soon as possible. “My fervent hope is that it would be possible for me and my family to leave for the U.S. on Hillary Clinton’s plane,” he told the Daily Beast.

A senior State Department official told reporters on Thursday that officials were "trying to get full, frank and candid conversation with him," adding: "We are not there yet. If he is changing his view, we're starting from square one with the Chinese."

"When we feel that we have a clear view of what his final decision is, we will do what we can to help him achieve that," the official said.

A source familiar with the situation said Chen and his wife appeared to have had "a change of heart" about a deal, agreed on Tuesday, to remain in China after receiving guarantees about their safety.

U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke discusses the blind activist Chen Guangcheng's apparent 'change of heart' and how the U.S. is trying to help resolve the issue.

China censors 'Shawshank' as Clinton heads to Beijing amid dissident drama

"We don't know if there was intimidation or pressure from friends who think he made the wrong choice, or whether he got in the room with his wife and she was looking at a different situation," the source added.

The New York Times reported that the saga leaves Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's scheduled summit meeting in Beijing "under a cloud of confusion."

It reported that the Obama administration was "exposed to criticism from Republicans and human rights groups that it had rushed to resolve a delicate human rights case so that it would not overshadow other matters on the bilateral agenda," such as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programs and China's currency and trade policies.

'I feel unsafe'
Chen, a self-taught legal activist, explained his change of mind: "I feel very unsafe. My rights and safety cannot be assured here," he said. His family, who were with him at the hospital, backed his decision to try to reach the United States, he added.

Blind activist: Chinese officials threatened my wife

The activist, citing descriptions from his wife, Yuan Weijing, said his family had been surrounded by Chinese officials who menaced them and filled the family home. Chen, from a village in rural Shandong province, has two children.

"When I was inside the American Embassy, I didn't have my family, and so I didn't understand some things. After I was able to meet them, my ideas changed."

Us Embassy Beijing Press Office / AFP - Getty Images

In handout photograph from the US Embassy Beijing Press office taken on Wednesday, Chen Guangcheng together with US ambassador to China Gary Locke as Chen's wife Yuan Weijing and children meet him in Beijing.

Gary Locke, the U.S. ambassador, told reporters he could say unequivocally that Chen was never pressured to leave the embassy.

Locke said Chen had two conversations with his wife before agreeing to the original deal on Tuesday. "We waited several minutes and suddenly he jumped up very eager and said 'let's go' in front of many witnesses," the ambassador said.

Clinton urged China to protect human rights but made no specific mention of Chen, whom she had spoken to on Wednesday after he left the embassy.

Blind dissident's case a 'hot potato' for US-China relations

"Of course, as part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms," Clinton said. "We believe all governments have to answer our citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights."

US-China relationship under pressure
Despite Chen's change of heart about staying in China, it was unclear if he would be able to travel to the United States. Having left the Embassy and the protection of U.S. authorities, his fate is now in the hands of the Chinese government.

U.S. officials appeared no longer to be with him on Thursday, with the dissident saying he had still not had an opportunity to explain his change of heart to the U.S. side.

"I hope the U.S. will help me leave immediately. I want to go there for medical treatment," Chen said from the hospital, where a pack of camera crews and reporters was waiting outside, kept away from the entrance by a few police.

Chen, 40, is a legal activist who campaigned against forced abortions under China's "one-child" policy. On April 22, he escaped 19 months of house arrest, during which he and his family faced beatings and threats.

Us Embassy Beijing Press Office / Reuters

An handout photo from US Embassy Beijing Press office shows blind activist Chen Guangcheng making a phone call as he is accompanied by U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, Wednesday.

Chen's dramatic escape from house arrest and his flight last week to the U.S. Embassy have made him a symbol of resistance to China's shackles on dissent, and the deal struck by Beijing and Washington would have made him an international test case of how tight or lose those restrictions remain.

Now, however, his change of mind throws not only his own future into doubt but also raises questions about the wider U.S.-China relationship. 

Reuters, The Associated Press, NBC's Kristin Wilson and msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.

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