Update (12:44p): The State Department is continuing to defend its handling of the Chen Guangcheng deal. New reports this afternoon say the Chinese activist was relayed threats against his family by U.S. officials. State Department Spokeswoman Victoria Nuland just released this statement denying that is what occurred:
At no time did any US official speak to Chen about physical or legal threats to his wife and children. Nor did Chinese officials make any such threats to us. US interlocutors did make clear that if Chen elected to stay in the Embassy, Chinese officials had indicated to us that his family would be returned to Shandong, and they would lose their opportunity to negotiate for reunification. And at no point during his time in the Embassy did Chen ever request political asylum in the US. At every opportunity, he expressed his desire to stay in China, reunify with his family, continue his education and work for reform in his country. All our diplomacy was directed at putting him in the best possible position to achieve his objectives.
Update: Assistant Secretary of State Kurt Campbell insists to our Jill Dougherty in an exclusive interview that Chen Guangcheng willingly left the U.S. embassy. A friend of Chen told CNN this morning that the Chinese activist agreed under duress to leave the embassy because his wife's life was threatened should Chen stay in the embassy.
Here's what Kurt Campbell said:
"We have very strict protocols on how we handle these things and a least three occasions our wonderful ambassador here, Ambassador Locke, asked him specifically, as we are required to do, with witnesses around, 'Mr. Chen, are you ready to leave the embassy voluntarily' and each time he said "zou" which means let's do it, let's go, and we're going to be putting some pictures out and I think what you're going to see from these is he is excited, he's happy, I think he's anticipating the struggles ahead but let me say there was a lot of hugging and really quite genuine warmth between him and us and I think everyone felt that we had served his interests and we had worked closely with him in a manner that brought his family together that had been torn apart years ago and really had done something that gives him a chance to have a productive life. It's not going to be easy but that's what he wanted and we were very grateful to be able to support it."
By CNN's Jethro Mullen
A Chinese human rights activist who escaped house arrest and took refuge in the U.S. Embassy in Beijing left for a hospital Wednesday, opening a new chapter in the life of a man at the center of a controversy between the United States and China.
Chen Guangcheng's presence in the U.S. Embassy prompted a flurry of diplomatic activity between the United States and China. It threatened to overshadow U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's scheduled meetings with senior Chinese leaders this week.
The situation has presented a complex test for the Obama administration's approach to relations with China, creating a strain between upholding human rights and maintaining steady ties with Beijing.