Amid claim and counter-claim, the details of US dealings with the blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng are far from clear. What is certain, however, is that any deal to end the diplomatic stand-off between the US and China over Mr Chen's future has unravelled.
Meanwhile, the brutality of the Chinese government – using death threats against the lawyer's wife to prise him out of the sanctuary of the US embassy – has been thrown into sharp relief.
The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has a delicate line to tread. She must protect the increasingly vulnerable Mr Chen without antagonising Beijing further on an issue now overshadowing high-level annual economic talks between the two countries. The US dropped the political ball in allowing Mr Chen to leave the embassy.
It must now do all it can to regain the initiative and ensure that Mr Chen and his family are allowed to leave the country safely.