Obamas showered with Saudi diplomatic gifts

FOREIGN leaders showered President Barack Obama and his family with hundreds of thousands of dollars in art, jewellery, 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. Saudi King Abdullah gave Obama, his wife and daughters nearly $190,000 (about €140,000) 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 jewellery set, including earrings, a ring, a bracelet and necklace, for the first lady worth $132,000 (about €98,000).

But 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 jewellery has already been sent to the National Archives.

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 (about €24,500). The Italian haul included silk ties, a gold watch and a crystal table.

In addition to the ruby and diamond jewellery, the Saudi monarch presented Michelle Obama with a $14,200 (about €10,500) pearl necklace. He gave the president a marble clock adorned with miniature gold palm trees and camels valued at $34,500 (€25,500). He sent first daughters Sasha and Malia Obama diamond earrings and necklaces worth more than $7,000 (€5,200).

Senior White House officials were also recipients of King Abdullah’s largesse, with top aides like national security adviser James Jones, and spokesman Robert Gibbs receiving watches, cufflinks and pens.

Chinese president Hu Jintao gave Obama a $20,000 (about €15,000) silk embroidery of the first family.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife sent perfume and a $4,500 (€3,300) 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 (€12,232).

Pope Benedict XVI gave the president a gilt-framed mosaic of St Peter’s Square, a decorative gold coin and several books valued at $7,905 (€5,856).

But some leaders chose more modest gifts. Britain’s Queen Elizabeth presented Obama with framed portraits of herself and her husband, Prince Philip, worth $775 (€575).

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas offered the US leader $521 in gifts, including the least expensive item listed by the State Department: a $75 (€55) bottle of olive oil.

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