Royal Gifts

King Abdullah was by far the most generous gift-giver to President Barack Obama, his family and administration, according to documents released by the State Department on Tuesday. The King gave Obama, his wife and daughters nearly $190,000 in luxury items in 2009, including the single most valuable gift reported to have been given to U.S. officials that year in 2009: a ruby and diamond jewelry set for Michelle Obama worth $132,000.

However, don’t expect to see the first lady wearing the fancy gems anytime soon. By law, most gifts to American officials must be turned over to the government and the jewelry has already been sent to the National Archives. Why do they accept these gifts if they can’t keep them? According to the documents, “Non-acceptance would cause embarrassment to donor and US Government.”

See a list of the most interesting gifted items after the jump.

  • Barack Obama received a large desert scene on a green veined marble base featuring miniature figurines of gold palm trees and camels; large gold medallion with the Royal seal in a green leather display box; large brass and glass clock by Jaeger-LeCoultre in a green leather display case. Est. Value— $34,500.
  • Michelle Obama received a necklace made of 33 pearls with a sterling silver pendant worth $14,200. She also received the aforementioned ruby and diamond jewelry set consisting of a pair of earrings, a ring, a bracelet, and a necklace worth $132,000.
  • Malia Obama received a jewelry set including heart-shaped diamond earrings and a necklace worth $3,775, while Sasha Obama received a jewelry set including square diamond earrings and a necklace worth $3,500.
  • Each White House staff members received a green leather briefcase with set of jewelry including ruby and diamond bracelet, earrings and ring, men’s and women’s silver Longines watches, Tiffany & Co. sterling silver cufflinks and Dior silver pen. The value of this set was between $4,500 to $18,000. The White House staff members who received these gifts are David Axelrod, Rahm Emanuel, Jon Favreau, Robert Gibbs, Valerie Jarrett, Mark Lippers, Alyssa Mastromonaco, Denis McDonough, Marvin Necholson, Daniel Pfeiffer, Benjamin Rhodes, Peter Rundlet, Puneet Talwar, Penny Price, and James Jones who also received a 48” x 77” red rug worth $700.
  • Gamal Helal, a senior diplomatic interpreter, received a similar set to the one received by the White House staff. His set, however, is worth $23,400.
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16 thoughts on “Royal Gifts

  1. Should I be happy or sad?It’s okay to give gifts but “the most valuable gift reported to have been given to U.S. officials that year in 2009″with a poverty and unemployment rate as high as we have!!

  2. These exchanges of gifts are long customary in the diplomatic world, and internationally have long been held as a gift to the nation not really to the individuals.

    The Shah’s former palace in Tehran is full of such gifts, ie they are part of a state museum.

    Personal gifts are verboten and usually get the receiver who doesn’t turn them over in major trouble, as eventually happened with Chirac and his Bokassa diamonds.

    I don’t find these gifts tacky in the least. For true tackiness, one must turn to the Obama administration’s choice of gifts for visiting dignitaries and to bring on state visits.

    Particularly notable are the tacky gifts offered by Obama to the Queen of England on the occasion of his state visit, and the elegance of the ones offered by the Queen ie by the USA and Great Britain, respectively.

    The question of how the King should be spending whose money is more a propos.

  3. And your point is exactly? Every “president”, head of state” and other “vips” receive such gifts – and gifts are exchanged – it’s all part of the standard international protocol process. What about listing the gifts exchanged by former presidents etc? Heaven knows I am not an apologist for for the despots in power in KSA but if you are going to write about such things let’s have some balance in the reporting.

  4. I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but are these gifts from Saudi government funds or from the personal salary of the King? If they are from his personal salary then its fine if they are from government funds they could have been used for better purposes as giving gifts to be put into the national archives of the US is a waste (israf). I think we should present this issue to the Council of Sunni Scholars (Haiat Kibar al ulama) to get an official ruling.

  5. @ nhusain. What planet are you on? The king of KSA directs disposal the national wealth according to his own discretion and judgement. You need to wake up to the fact that the laws of KSA and Sharia are not one and the same and do not converge unless it is in the national interest. The views of Islamic scholars are irrelevant and have as much chance of making a difference as I have of becoming king!

  6. great blog!!! I don’t think that these ‘gifts’ are really gifts. They’re more like bribes to me. I also concur with what Aalia said in this first post. Should i be sad or angry, people are dying of hunger in the world’s biggest oil exporter and we’re treating money like toilet paper. Allah swt will not be pleased.

  7. The “gift rule” is anything over $20. At such events, each sides’ staff check if gifts are being offered. True, the US gifts are of much less value, but sometimes a historic aspect. Giving immensely valuable jewelry to the First Lady …. sounds as if earlier First Ladies might not have relinquished them to the archives.

  8. In the US there are clearly defined rules relating to determining/calculating the “value” of received official gifts and if over a certain value must be handed over. However there are ways (sometimes used) to circumvent these inconvenient hurdles, such as that used by a former US Sec of State who received a heavily encrusted and bejewelled sword from the (then) king of KSA, who in order to keep it had it valued by the US authorities at below the critical legal handover level.

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