Middle East Leaders Give $1.2m Of Gifts To White House
Middle East rulers and politicians gave some $1.25m worth of gifts to the White House last year, led by $988,000 of presents from Saudi Arabia.
Some $785,000 of the gifts were handed to President Barak Obama, the most expensive of which was a haul of $522,972 given to him by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud in September 2015 – that included a bronze sculpture of two horses made with gold-plated sterling silver, diamonds, tsavorites, yellow sapphires, rubies, and obsidian, along with a chronometer and a set of golf clubs and a golf bag.
Saudi Arabia was by far the freest spending of the Middle East countries, accounting for nine of the 12 most expensive gifts over the course of the year. These included a Thomas Mercer clock worth $160,000 given to Vice President Joe Biden by King Salman. Also, high up the list was a 36” sword decorated with gold, silver, rubies and mother-of-pearl, worth $87,900, which Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif gave to Obama.
The frequency and scale of the gifts is an indication of how regularly senior officials from the two countries meet, but it is not a sign of closeness. Relations between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have suffered during Obama’s presidency, with a widely-held perception that the U.S. has become disengaged from the region. The nuclear deal which saw the removal of most sanctions on Iran has added to the concern in many Arab Gulf capitals, while Saudi Arabia’s regular bombing of civilian targets in Yemen has tested the patience of officials in Washington D.C. this year.
Qatar was second in line in terms of the value of its gifts, worth a total of $254,000. Most of that was accounted for by two gold-plated mechanical birds which the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani gave to Barack and Michelle Obama. The birds, valued at $110,000 each, are designed to tweet, turn, and flap their wings once an hour.
Overall, Michelle Obama received $142,000 worth of gifts. Joe Biden received $212,000 worth of presents and his wife Jill $21,000. Gifts to other White House staff were valued at a total of $85,000. Beyond the White House, Secretary of State John Kerry was given almost $73,000 worth of gifts from Middle East dignitaries.
Sculptures proved to be a popular choice, particularly those referencing aspects of the Middle East, such as Arabian horses, camels and palm trees – leaders from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain all opted for these through the year. Silver pots and coffee sets were also often handed over by, among others, Sayyid Fahd bin Mahmoud Al Said, deputy prime minister of Oman, and Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
Details of the gifts were revealed in a notice from the State Department released earlier this month. Most of the gifts were passed on to the National Archives and Records Administration, although a few pieces were retailed for display.