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
|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
|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|
|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
|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|
|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
|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
|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|