Jordan's King Abdullah was in attendance Monday night, substituting for his wife, Queen Rania, at the Hope Gala at the Andrew W. Mellon auditorium, a gathering of royals and glittering personalities for a worthy cause, raising money for children with cancer.
The king said he is usually called upon for seeking other, more difficult solutions in the Middle East.
"Today, I talk of a solution that has already been found," said the monarch, speaking about cancer research and modern cures that can offer hope to the afflicted. The event was a benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis and its partner in Amman, the King Hussein Cancer Center.
Abdullah reminisced about his late father, King Hussein, and said he knew what it was like to be waiting at the bedside of a loved one for some sign of improvement, hoping for some scientific breakthrough or treatment that might make a difference.
"I can only tell you, Rania and I know of the deep emotions of those moments," he said, also recalling his father's spirit and humanity.
Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan, the chairwoman, spoke movingly about her husband's recovery from cancer after undergoing treatment 12 years ago. She met Prince Talal Ben Mohammed, Abdullah's first cousin, while they were students at Georgetown University. They now have three children.
The event was cast in soft lighting, towering floral arrangements of cream, yellow and ocher calla lilies and orchids. The mood did not labor with the pain of loss, instead with commitment to raise money.
Abdullah, for instance, donated a customized and multi-gadgeted Harley-Davidson motorcycle to a live auction during the event. The bidders on the Harley-Davidson, among various items auctioned off, were a distinguished array of Washington insiders and Wall Street stars. They included World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.). Kennedy raised his hand repeatedly with demure nods of approval from his wife, Victoria Reggie Kennedy, but stopped at $20,000. Finally, the royal bike fetched $27,000 from Steve Case, the founder and former chairman of America Online.
The event raised $720,000, organizers said. "Cancer does not have to mean the end, but also the beginning of a happy, healthy life," said one spokesman for the Hope Gala. Even the absence of the reigning Jordanian queen had undertones of hope and new beginnings. She was not feeling very well, one spokeswoman said; persistent palace rumors in Amman have it that she is expecting another child.
Predictions of Violence
King Abdullah spoke about the Middle East in a brief interview during the affair and said he was not as hopeful about Iraq, expressing deep concern about the spasms of rage and cruelty in that country. He said that he anticipated an escalation of violence before the scheduled establishment of an interim Iraqi government on June 30. "After that, attacks against the Coalition Provisional Authority will abate at least, because they will be slowly phasing out," he predicted.
"After that, I'm afraid we are going to see the curve rise" in sectarian and communal strife between the Sunni and Shiite Muslim communities, he said. "In a way it is inevitable. Everyone will be jockeying for a stronger position to establish themselves on the ground. This year, 2004, is going to continue to be a very hard year."
A Loss for Words
Luis Moreno, Colombia's ambassador to Washington, rarely misses an opportunity to network and generate goodwill for his country. Two days ahead of a scheduled hearing in Washington on Colombia's war on drugs, he walked over to Kennedy, seated at the head table next to Abdullah.
"Things are getting better in Colombia," on the U.S.-backed drive to combat narcoterrorism and to boost development, he told the senator.
Kennedy said that if his Massachusetts colleague wins the presidency, "they will get much better with Kerry."
There was an awkward silence and the Colombian envoy appeared at a loss for words. "You don't have to say anything," Kennedy reassured Moreno.
World Refugee Day
As human rights activists raise warnings about genocide and ethnic cleansing in Sudan, World Refugee Day is being observed today. Launching the observance in Washington are Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and actress Angelina Jolie, the designated goodwill ambassador of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Jolie has just returned from a visit to UNHCR camps in Chad, where Sudanese refugees are fleeing their war-ravaged homes in Sudan's western Darfur region.
USA for UNHCR, the fundraising arm of the U.N. agency in Washington, said Monday that the Kuwait-America Foundation will start fundraising for the 500,000 Iraqi refugees residing in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, most of whom are women and children. Rima Sabah, the wife of Kuwait's ambassador to Washington, said the drive is meant to "show that the people of Kuwait and America care about what happens to these stranded families."