NYU offers Chen Guangcheng fellowship as "dignified way out" of diplomatic crisis

In this photo released by the U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng, in wheel chair, meets his wife Yuan Weijing, at right, daughter Chen Kesi, in blue shirt at second right, and son Chen Kerui, left, at a hospital in Beijing, May 2, 2012.
AP Photo/U.S. Embassy Beijing Press Office, HO

(CBS/AP) BEIJING - A New York University law professor says legal activist Chen Guangcheng has been offered a fellowship at the school.

Jerome Cohen, who has been advising Chen during the diplomatic standoff, says Chen has been offered an invitation to the university's U.S.-Asia Law Institute with provisions for his family.

Asked if Chen would accept, Cohen said he thinks he will but added, "I don't know whether he wants to come to New York or not. He may face a lot of other alternatives."

The U.S. and China have forged the outlines of a deal that would allow Chen to travel to the U.S. with his family for a university fellowship.

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The Chinese Foreign Ministry says Chen can apply for travel permits to study abroad and a State Department spokeswoman says the U.S. expects Beijing to quickly process their travel permits, after which U.S. visas would be granted.

"I don't think this is empty talk here. I think they mean this is a way out, and it's a dignified way out. It's a good way out for the Chinese government and our government and for Chen and his family," said Cohen, who met Chen nearly a decade ago and advised him during the negotiations.

The emerging deal over Chen's future could end one of their most delicate diplomatic crises between Washington and Beijing in years.

On Friday, NYU released a statement saying Chen had been invited to study in New York or at one of the university's other global sites. The only NYU law campus not in the U.S. is in Singapore.

The progress seemed significant after a bizarre, rocky crisis triggered when Chen, an inspirational figure in China's human rights movement, escaped from house arrest in his rural home and reached the U.S. Embassy in Beijing last Friday. First saying he wanted to stay in China, a smiling Chen emerged from the fortress-like embassy to a hospital reunion with his wife and two children only to say hours later that he changed his mind.

In cell phone calls from his hospital room with friends and foreign media, he said he and his family felt unsafe and he wanted to go abroad, undoing a deal U.S. and Chinese officials worked out to guarantee their safe relocation to a city in China where he could study law.

"My situation right now is very dangerous," Chen told The Associated Press early Friday. On Thursday, he dialed into a congressional hearing to make a direct appeal for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Clinton's help.