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

Reuters/Jonathan Ernst
You shouldn’t have.
By Corinne Purtill
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

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

Reading material

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

Practical matters

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 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

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