WASHINGTON (AP) — 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 U.S. officials that year: a ruby and diamond jewelry set, including earrings, a ring, a bracelet and necklace, for the first lady worth $132,000.
But do not be looking for the first lady to be wearing the dazzling gems anytime soon. By law, most gifts to U.S. officials must be turned over to the government and the jewelry already has been sent to the National Archives.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a distant runner-up to 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.
Besides 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 also were 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 II presented Obama with framed portraits of herself and her husband, Prince Philip, worth $775.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered the U.S. leader $521 in gifts, including the least expensive item listed by the State Department: a $75 bottle of olive oil.