"We're not about to make promises we cannot keep," he told NBC. Locke was speaking before the reported statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Locke said that U.S. diplomats had sought only what was good for Chen. He said that earlier in the week, when Chen had said he did not want to leave the Embassy, U.S. officials had begun preparations to allow him to live in the building for "several years."
Meanwhile, two days of U.S.-China talks got underway with top Chinese officials calling for cooperation but also signaling their displeasure with Washington's behavior.
Clinton, while not mentioning Chen by name, said China cannot deny the aspirations of their citizens "for dignity and the rule of law."
Chinese President Hu Jintao said the two nations must respect each other's concerns because any worsening of relations would pose "grave" risks for the world.
"They exchanged barbs obliquely," said Christopher K. Johnson, a former top CIA analyst on China who is now with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
He said that with Chen at a Chinese hospital and out of U.S. control, American leverage had declined. The issue now, he said, was whether China would agree to accommodate Chen.
Although many top Chinese officials are pragmatists who want to end the crisis and return to transacting normal business with Washington, Johnson said, U.S. intervention has stirred up security officials and others who want to take a strong stand against what they view as meddling.
"I get the feeling that the nationalist impulses may have stronger play here," he said.
As U.S. officials struggled for a solution in Beijing, criticism was intensifying in Washington. Reps.Christopher H. Smith(R-N.J.) and Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) complained at the commission hearing that the hasty deal didn't guarantee Chen's safety or his family's.
"We have to take with a grain of salt when he gush-
es with gratitude," Smith said. The administration "dropped the ball," he said.
GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney seized on the issue during a campaign swing through Virginia. He called Chen's departure from U.S. protection "a day of shame for the Obama administration" and a dark day for the cause of freedom.
Times staff writers Barbara Demick in New York, David Pierson in Beijing, Carol J. Williams in Los Angeles and Richard Simon in Washington contributed to this report.