WASHINGTON – Britain’s Prince Harry broke hearts in Washington’s corridors of power, showing more interest in landmines than in the excited fans who greeted him at the start of a week-long US visit.
Squeals ricocheted down the halls of the Russell Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill as the 28-year-old eligible bachelor inspected a photo exhibit set up by the HALO Trust, a charity favored by his late mother Princess Diana.
Harry, a British army officer in Afghanistan, ignored the giddy posse of twentysomethings as he chatted with Senator John McCain, 76, a Vietnam war veteran whose wife Cindy is a HALO board member.
There were no public remarks, but Harry was overheard inquiring about the price of mine detectors when he cast an eye over mannequins in cobalt blue outfits combing the polished marble floor for imaginary unexploded ordnance.
Harry is the honorary fundraising patron of HALO, the world’s biggest demining organization, which since its founding 25 years ago has unearthed more than 1.4 million landmines in 9,800 minefields around the world.
“He’s very much tuned in to the landmine issue,” said HALO chief executive Guy Willoughby, who also conversed with Harry at the exhibit aptly installed outside the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing room.
Diana famously toured minefields cleared by HALO teams in Angola shortly before her death in a Paris car crash in August 1997, a year after her stormy divorce from Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.
The United States is the only NATO member state not to sign the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning landmines, but since the late 1990s, it has contributed $150 million to support HALO’s work.
“The commitment of the American government to fund humanitarian mine clearance far, far, far outweighs the political niceties about whether they have or have not signed the Ottawa treaty,” Willoughby told AFP.
A State Department official said Washington was “the world’s single largest financial supporter of demining and conventional weapons destruction,” even as it pursues “an ongoing policy review” on whether to adopt the Ottawa Treaty.
“Since 1993, we have delivered over $2 billion in more than 90 countries for mine clearance, survivor assistance, mine risk education and the research and development of new demining technologies,” the official said.
Harry paid a surprise visit to the White House, where First Lady Michelle Obama offered him afternoon tea in the company of American military veterans.
“He has a very busy schedule, but when he heard about this tea and all of you… he wanted to be here to personally thank you for your service,” she said as Harry kept a polite silence.
Harry is on his best behavior after snapshots of the party-loving prince in a Las Vegas hotel suite — totally naked, with hands cupped over his crown jewels — spilled onto the Internet in August.
His official schedule in Washington also included a dinner at the home of British Ambassador Peter Westmacott — scallops and roasted veal were served — and a solemn wreath-laying Friday at Arlington National Cemetery.
Before the dinner, at a reception for 200 invited guests that included Iraq war amputees, Harry commended the “charitable instinct” of Americans, saying they had been “enormously generous” in supporting HALO.
This weekend, Harry travels to Colorado to open the Warrior Games for soldiers wounded in war.
Next week, he’ll be in New Jersey to see first-hand the damage inflicted on the Atlantic seaboard state by superstorm Sandy in October.