"I can tell you unequivocally that he was never pressured to leave," Locke told reporters.
The United States will do what it can to help Chen and his family leave China if that is what they want to do, a senior U.S. State Department official said, but added that Washington doesn't have "a magic wand" to get him out of the country.
"We do not yet have a full view of what he wants to do at this stage," the official said. Once a clear understanding of Chen's desires has emerged, "we will do what we can to help him achieve that," the official added.
"There are ongoing discussions happening in Beijing," a senior administration official told CNN. "Can't comment beyond that."
"The United States government and the American people are committed to remaining engaged with Mr. Chen and his family in the days, weeks and years ahead," Clinton said Wednesday in a statement.
Human rights advocacy groups questioned whether Beijing would stick to its promises.
"There are serious concerns over whether the Chinese government will honor commitments it made to the U.S. government to not persecute Chen and his family members," Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.
Chen has touched a nerve in China, where CNN International's broadcast has been blocked in recent days during the network's stories about him.
Chinese officials did not comment on what deal may have been reached. Comments reported by state media focused on "interference" by Washington.
"This is totally unacceptable to China," Liu Weimin, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said in comments reported Wednesday by the state-run news agency Xinhua. He demanded an apology from the United States.
Nevertheless, senior officials from the two countries -- including Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner -- met Thursday in Beijing for scheduled talks about strategic and economic issues.
In a speech, Clinton referred to human rights without mentioning Chen. "As part of our dialogue, the United States raises the importance of human rights and fundamental freedoms because we believe that all governments do have to answer to citizens' aspirations for dignity and the rule of law and that no nation can or should deny those rights," she said.
On the Chinese side, President Hu Jintao said Washington and Beijing "should approach our differences in a correct way, and respect and accommodate each other's interests and concerns."
Chen had been confined to his home for 18 months after serving four years in prison, apparently over his legal advocacy for what he called victims of abusive practices such as forced abortions and sterilizations by China's family planning officials.
Yuan said she does not want to raise her children in China, where she said they would have no future. She said guards at the hospital would not allow her to leave and appealed to Clinton to intervene.
"If we stay here or get sent back to Shandong, our lives would be at stake," she said.