Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bush Administration got Generous Foreign Gifts


The Bush Administration's decision to restore diplomatic relations with Libya apparently left Libyan strongman Muammar Qadhafi feeling generous-very, very generous.

When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Tripoli last year for the first time in more than 50 years, Qadhafi gave Rice a diamond ring and other items with a total value of $212,225, according to a report the State Department submitted Wednesday.

By law, federal officials are required to turn such gifts over to the government, which either sells them or stores them at the National Archives. A few items are retained for display at government offices or purchased by the recipient.

Qadhafi's gifts to American visitors last September also reflected the personality cult he has encouraged over the years. Rice got a locket with the Libyan leader's photo in it. Her spokesman, Sean McCormack, got an $800 Men's RADO watch "with small likeness of Qadhafi's face on watch face," the State Department said in the report set to be published Thursday in the Federal Register.

However, Qadhafi was outdone by the Saudis, who lavished more than $750,000 in gifts on Rice, President George W. Bush and other officials during trips last year. In January 2008, Saudi King Abdullah gave Rice a "gold, diamond and sapphire set with necklace, ring, bracelet and earrings." That, along with a robe and scarf, was worth $230,145, the State Department said.

During the same January visit, the Saudis gave State Department Chief of Protocol Nancy Brinker $65,000 in gifts, including an emerald and diamond bracelet. Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East, David Welch, and the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ford Fraker, each got $45,000 worth of watches and other items. Top White House staffers, including Stephen Hadley, Josh Bolten, Ed Gillespie, Dana Perino, William McGurn and Elliott Abrams each got jewelry and robes pegged at about $15,000 a set.

During a March visit to Saudi Arabia, Vice President Cheney's daughter, Elizabeth, got diamond and ruby jewelry with an estimated value of $85,000, while her mom, Lynne Cheney, scored a $65,000 set.

In 2007, Rice received two gifts of jewelry from the Saudis, with a total value of more than $310,000. In an official report last December, one of those gifts was mistakenly attributed to King Abdullah of Jordan, which prompted a denial from the Jordanian Embassy. "We believe this must have been a mistake on the part of the State Department. Gifts by HM King Abdullah II to U.S. officials are always symbolic and of little material value," the embassy told CNN.

However, it appears what may be "material" to some, may not be to others. The latest report shows that in February 2008 King Abdullah of Jordan gave the U.S. Ambassador to Jordan, David Hale, "one Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo watch" valued by the State Department at $12,500.

Bush, an avid biker, attracted numerous cycling related gifts-all of which appear to be headed to the National Archives. In 2008, German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave Bush a black Mercedes mountain bike, Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa presented a "full carbon Black Gold XTR mountain bike," and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert gave the U.S. leader "a hydration system cycling backpack" and bib shorts marked with Bush's name and Israeli flags.

The most striking gifts may be the "taxidermied lion and leopard" Bush received along with a zebra skin in February 2008 from Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Gifts to CIA officials appear to have been relatively modest in value, though details of the donors and some recipients were withheld. Former CIA director Michael Hayden got two swords and scabbards in 2008 from an unspecified country.

Interns who enjoy the finer things, or at least proximity to such things, take note: a State Department intern was the recipient of a $2600 Tag Heuer watch from Dubai's ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

The report indicates that gifts of food, liquor, cigars and bath items were "handled pursuant to U.S. Secret Service policy," which may be a diplomatic way of saying they were disposed of for security reasons. Ten jars of Caspian caviar Vice President Dick Cheney got from the president of Azerbaijan in September 2008 got the special "Secret Service" treatment.

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