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Saudi’s gifts to the US
According to reports, US officials accompanying President Obama to the Middle East got some pricey presents during their stop in Saudi Arabia.
June 11, 2009 3:47 by Aarti Nagraj
Media outlets across the world are still debating the impact of US President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world in Cairo last week.
“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition,” he said. “Instead, they overlap, and share common principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.”
While some in the Arab world welcomed the speech, others said that words alone will not be enough – they must be followed by action.
Whether Obama left the Middle East satisfied or not, it seems his country certainly gained in more ways than one. According to US-based political website Politico.com, around a dozen White House staffers traveling with the US delegation received an alligator-skin briefcase from the Saudi royal family during their visit to the kingdom. The briefcases were filled with expensive jewels, including rings, necklaces, gemstones and watches, sources told the site, which exceeded the $335 limit on gifts that the US federal employees are allowed to accept.
“The gifts were immediately handed over to State Department officials,” White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said. “Under federal law, they are treated as gifts to the United States, not the individuals.”
A US State Department official told Politico.com that they couldn’t refuse the gifts as it might cause embarrassment to the Saudis.
The White House gift office will assess the value of the alligator-skin briefcases and their contents, following which their final fate will be determined, the official said.
One option might be for recipients to purchase the gifts from the government at its assessed cost, while another would be for staff to use gifts in some official capacity, such as decorating the office or using it for display in a lobby.
However the latter might be difficult. “Legally,” the official said, “I don’t think we could find a reason to use it as official use.”
Meanwhile, the site says that though Obama did not receive one of the briefcases, he received other gifts, including a medallion known as the King Abdul Aziz Order of Merit. The president’s gifts are handled separately, and kept for preservation for his future library.