PRESENT TIME

Camel sculptures and Kazakh booze: A list of the best gifts US government employees couldn’t keep

Presidents receive a lot of gifts from foreign dignitaries; they keep hardly any.

Federal law bars government employees from accepting any gift from a foreign government valued at more than $390. The number derives from a 1966 law barring gifts above “minimal value” to halt the flow of luxury cars and prize horses from favor-seeking foreign governments. A 1978 revision set that minimum at $100, with inflation-adjusted increases every three years.

Even if the Obamas wanted to hold on to the more luxurious items presented to them on official visits—the $42,000 sculpture of a Bedouin and camels presented by the Emir of Kuwait, say, or the engraved cufflinks from the Minister-President of Bavaria—they couldn’t.

The prohibition on expensive gifts is well known, but the gifting goes on anyway, with heads of state, ambassadors, and government representatives lavishing all manner of goods upon presidents, members of Congress, and other government dignitaries. In October, the US state department released a list of gifts declared in 2015, the most recent year for which data is available.

The gifts were all accepted at the moment of presentation (to refuse, the state department notes, would cause “embarrassment to donor and US government”) and then handed over to the appropriate authorities for archiving. Gifts to the president and his family go to the National Archives, and eventually to their presidential libraries, which are managed by the same agency. The Secret Service disposes of food and perishable items.

Highlights from the 2015 haul—including mechanical birds, foie gras, and a few thousand dollars worth of Kazakh booze—are below.

Pictures of you

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Seretse Khama Ian Khama, President of Botswana 31′′x 42′′ framed pencil sketch of President Obama
President Barack Obama Hailemariam Desalegn, Prime Minister of Ethiopia Two 41′′x 29′′ framed photographs of then-Senator Obama’s 2006 visit to Ethiopia
President Barack Obama Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya 31′′x 25′′ painted black and white portrait of the First Family
President Barack Obama Pranab Mukherjee, President of India Photobook, “State Visit of His Excellency Mr. Barack H. Obama, President of the United States of America and Mrs. Michelle Obama to India 25 to 27 January 2015”
President Barack Obama Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan Ambassador to the US 29′′x 24′′ framed and matted painting of President Obama, decorated with floral and animal design
President Barack Obama Enrique Peña Nieto, President of Mexico 4′′ x 4′′ “Tree of Life“-style clay figurine including members of the First Family
Stacie Hankins, US Consular Chief in Abuja, Nigeria Dickson Osa Omoregie, Consultant to the President of Nigeria Metal bust sculpture of recipient
Michelle Obama Akie Abe, Spouse of the Prime Minister of Japan Plate of bone china, oval shape, with hand-painted image of First Dogs Bo and Sunny

Pictures of me

To From Gift
Antony Blinken, Deputy Secretary of State Charles, Britain’s Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall Framed and signed photo of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall
President Barack Obama King Felipe VI of Spain 12′′x 10′′ signed photo of the King and Queen of Spain
President Barack Obama Prince Harry 12′′x 10′′ framed, signed photograph of Prince Harry

Reading material

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China Book: Friends of the Chinese People—Commemorative Stamps
President Barack Obama Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey Book: A Vision of Global Peace
President Barack Obama Uhuru Kenyatta, President of Kenya Book: Kenya the Beautiful
President Barack Obama Chum Bun Rong, Cambodia Ambassador to the US Book: Cambodia’s Birds
President Barack Obama Pranab Mukherjee, President of India Book: Winged Wonders of Rashtrapati Bhavan
National Security Advisor Susan Rice General Fan Changlong, Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission, People’s Republic of China Book: Let History Bear Witness to Our Friendship
Secretary of State John Kerry Nikos Kotzias, Greece Minister of Foreign Affairs Two-volume book set: Portolanos—Hellenic Yachting Pilot
Tracey Jacobson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Government of Turkmenistan Book: Neutral Turkmenistan

Boxes and bowls

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India Hand-carved wooden jaali box with a small, wooden latch and photo of Marian Anderson’s radio interview in India on the lid
President Barack Obama Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar Silver bowl with the Qatari insignia in the center, bordered by an alphabetical listing of national capitals and their distance from Doha in kilometers
President Barack Obama Enda Kenny, Prime Minister of Ireland Crystal presentation bowl with personalized inscription and quotes by Irish poet W. B. Yeats along the top border with shamrocks with a round base
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Itsuro Terada, Chief Justice of Supreme Court of Japan Jewelry box
Vice President Joe Biden Sebastián Piñera, President of Chile Lapis lazuli box with gold-colored trim
Vice President Joe Biden Ashraf Ghani, President of Afghanistan Lapis lazuli footed bowl
Vice President Joe Biden Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive of Afghanistan Lapis lazuli bowl

Practical matters

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan GPS-driven analog wristwatch with steel link band, charcoal dial, and solar panel face
Michelle Obama King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands Personalized bicycle with bell
President Barack Obama Saleem Al-Jabouri, Speaker of Iraq’s Council of Representatives Ballpoint pen, silver pocket watch, and a USB drive
President Barack Obama Najib Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia 2016 daily planner
President Barack Obama Hassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei Gas-powered wine system, 10 argon gas canisters
Barack and Michelle Obama Kadyr Toktogulov, Kyrgyzstan Ambassador to the US Two brown-leather cell phone sleeves, two tablet computer sleeves, one laptop computer sleeve
Secretary of State John Kerry Iurie Carp, Director of Cricova Winery Personalized honorary storage cubby at Cricova Winery, Moldova
Rep. John Boehner, Speaker of the House King Abdullah II of Jordan Barbecue grill

Snacks, drinks, and cigars

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Benigno Aquino III, President of the Philippines 15 bottles of spirits, banana chips, chocolate-covered mangos
President Barack Obama Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey 6.25′′ silver-tone candy dish engraved with a star and crescent moon, and filled with Turkish delight candy
Secretary of State John Kerry King Abdullah II of Jordan Assorted beef including Wagyu burgers, sirloin steaks, and rib eye steaks; two terrine de foie gras
Secretary of State John Kerry Erlan Idrissov, Kazakhstan Minister of Foreign Affairs Various bottles of local alcohol
Sen. Christopher A. Coons Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia Juan Valdez “Samurai” coffee maker and pods of Juan Valdez coffee
Sen. Marco Rubio Jason Yuan, Taiwan Representative to the US Davidoff cigars
Sen. John Hoeven Vlad Filat, President of Moldova’s Liberal Democratic Party Six bottles of wine, bottle of vintage cognac
President Barack Obama Thomas Boni Yayi, President of Benin 12 bottles of champagne
President Barack Obama Government of Cuba Seven boxes of cigars
Sens. Jeanne Shaheen, Mark Udall, John D. Rockefeller IV, Claire McCaskill, Robert Menendez, Debbie Stabenow, Jack Reed, Jeff Sessions, Mitch McConnell, Johnny Isakson, Chuck Grassley, Roger F. Wicker, Max Baucus, and Dianne Feinstein Sherry Rehman, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US 1-2 bottles each Chivas Brothers Scotch Whiskey

You shouldn’t have

To From Gift
President Barack Obama Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany Framed watercolor painting of men playing basketball
President Barack Obama David Cameron, UK Prime Minister Framed etching of Stonehenge
Secretary of State John Kerry Xi Jinping, President of People’s Republic of China Large framed embroidery depicting two adult swans and four cygnets
President Barack Obama Horst Seehofer, Minister-President of Bavaria 20′′ carved wooden statue of a barefoot man with a walking stick and red satchel
President Barack Obama Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Emir of Qatar 9′′ gold-plated mechanical bird (a Common Chiffchaff) that tweets, turns, and flaps its wings once per hour. Estimated value: $110,000
Vice President Joe Biden Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Arabian horse head in bronze with black ruthenium finish, a gold-plated mane, sterling-silver bridle and reins, gold-plated tassels, and cabochon blue sapphire on a rotating, red-crocodile-leather base with hand-chased sterling silver arabesque elements and gold-plated buckles
President Barack Obama King Salman of Saudi Arabia 26′′x 22′′ hand-made and specially commissioned bronze sculpture depicting two horses, one rearing and unsaddled and one standing and saddled, made with gold-plated sterling silver, diamonds, tsavorites, yellow sapphires, rubies, and obsidian mounted on a piano-black-lacquer rotating base.

Chronometer shaped like a large winch from wooden sail ships with gold-plated casing, brass dial, crystal glass, and detail along the sides naming celebrated ships that made significant voyages.

Set of ten golf irons. Leather golf bag with white stitching.

Estimated value: $522,972

General Mark Welsh, US Air Force Chief of Staff Pasquale Preziosa, Italy’s Chief of Air Force Black Salvatore Ferragamo purse
home our picks popular latest obsessions search