California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger paid a hastily arranged visit Monday to King Abdullah II of Jordan following criticism from Arab-Americans that his trip to the Middle East had excluded a meeting with Arabs.
Schwarzenegger flew in from neighboring Jerusalem, where he paid tribute Sunday to the millions of Jews who were killed in the Holocaust and helped dedicate a planned museum of tolerance.
Afterward, he flew into Germany to rally U.S. soldiers at an air base with self-deprecating tales of his own military exploits. There, he met with Thomas Hamill, the U.S. civilian who spent three weeks in captivity in Iraq before escaping his kidnappers over the weekend.
In Jordan, Schwarzenegger met Abdullah at Beit al-Barakeh, or House of Blessing, the king’s private residence in the suburbs of Amman. Political discussions during a royal banquet were expected to focus on Middle East peacemaking and Iraq, government officials said on condition of anonymity.
A brief statement from the palace, carried by the official news agency Petra, said the meeting took place, but it gave no details, calling the visit “private.”
Abdullah, a friend of Schwarzenegger’s, has visited the governor at his home in Los Angeles.
Critic welcomes ‘good step’
The stop in Jordan was arranged after the Associated Press reported Friday that Arab-Americans in Southern California had criticized his trip because it did not include a meeting with Arabs.
“As you know, you always will find criticism no matter what you do,” Schwarzenegger said.
Sabiha Kahn, a spokeswoman for the California branch of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the visit to Jordan “a good step in the right direction,” but she said the governor should also visit the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“I know he is more than willing to learn about all sides, and he should show that by visiting the Palestinian-occupied territory,” she said. “There is a conflict, and he is only meeting with the Israeli side.”
In Jerusalem, Schwarzenegger said in an emotional speech at the museum site Sunday that in a world of violence and suicide attacks, the museum would stand as a “candle to guide us.”
“The world should know we are not building a bunker. We’re building something that breathes with life, just as God breathed life into us,” Schwarzenegger said. “We look past the suicide bombers, the terrorists, past the blood. ... We look ahead to the time people can live side by side.”
Schwarzenegger later laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial during a ceremony at which he also rekindled the memorial’s symbolic eternal flame. Wearing a skullcap, he bowed his head and stood in silence for several minutes.
Cheers in Germany
Later Monday, Schwarzenegger cheered up hundreds of troops at Ramstein air base in Germany, where he shared humorous tales of his experiences in the Austrian military, bodybuilding and politics. Airman 1st Class Jonathan Ivy of Lovejoy, Ga., said Schwarzenegger was “the first celebrity here since I’ve been here. It lifts morale. I love his movies.”
Schwarzenegger spoke with Hamill for about five minutes in a room at the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and said Hamill, 43, appeared to be in good health.
“I just tried to let him know we support him and good luck,” Schwarzenegger said. “It must be unbelievable to be under the threat of maybe dying.”
Schwarzenegger said it was a coincidence that the two were at the hospital at the same time and said Hamill, who was being treated at the base for a gunshot wound, requested the visit after learning from military officials that Schwarzenegger was there.
Speaking in a hangar packed with cheering and clapping U.S. soldiers, Schwarzenegger told the troops that they were "the true action heroes," a reference to his 1993 movie "Last Action Hero."
"I have to say that my career in the military was not spotless," he said, referring to his time in the Austrian army. "There was one night when I woke up in the morning and my tank was gone. I forgot to put the right gear in there, and it rolled into the river in front of us. That's where I found it the next morning," he said to loud laughter.
He left the stage to booming rock music and made his way through the crowd hugging soldiers with a big smile. He later visited other injured soldiers, stopping to chat at their bedsides.