Obama smiles 311.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON — Foreign
leaders showered President Barack Obama and his family with hundreds of
thousands of dollars in art, jewelry, rare books and other presents
during their first year in the White House.
Saudi Arabia's king
was the most generous gift-giver, according to documents released by the
State Department on Tuesday. Saudi King Abdullah gave Obama, his wife
and daughters nearly $190,000 in luxury baubles in 2009, including the
single most valuable gift reported to have been given to US officials
that year: a ruby and diamond jewelry set, including earrings, a ring, a
bracelet and necklace, for the first lady worth $132,000.
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don't be looking for the first lady to be wearing the dazzling gems
anytime soon. By law, most gifts to US officials must be turned over
to the government and the jewelry has already been sent to the National
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a distant
runner up to King Abdullah, with gifts for the first family worth a
little under $33,000. The Italian haul included silk ties, a gold watch,
a crystal table and candlesticks. Berlusconi also gave nearly $2,000
worth of ties and scarves to members of Congress in 2009, including the
speaker of the House at the time, Nancy Pelosi.
In addition to
the ruby and diamond jewelry, the Saudi monarch presented Michelle Obama
with a $14,200 pearl necklace. He gave the president a marble clock
adorned with miniature gold palm trees and camels valued at $34,500. He
sent first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama diamond earrings and
necklaces worth more than $7,000.
Senior White House officials
were also recipients of King Abdullah's largesse, with top aides like
national security adviser James Jones, David Axelrod, Rahm Emmanuel,
Valerie Jarrett and spokesman Robert Gibbs receiving watches, cufflinks,
pens, earrings and bracelets valued at between $5,000 and $9,000.
Chinese President Hu Jintao gave Obama a $20,000 silk embroidery of the first family.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife sent perfume and a $4,500 black Christian Dior handbag.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave the president a pen and holder
made from the wood of the warship HMS Gannet, which played a role in
Victorian era anti-slavery efforts, along with two biographies of
Winston Churchill with a total value of $16,510.
Israeli President Shimon Peres, with an apparent eye toward peacemaking,
gave Obama a bronze statue of a girl releasing doves, worth $8,000 and
Pope Benedict XVI gave the president a gilt-framed mosaic of St. Peter's
Square, a decorative gold coin with the pontiff's profile and several
books valued at $7,905.
Some leaders chose more modest gifts. Britain's Queen Elizabeth
presented Obama with framed portraits of herself and her husband, Prince
Philip, worth $775.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered the US leader $521 in
gifts, including the least expensive item listed by the State
Department: a $75 bottle of olive oil.