WASHINGTON - For President Bush, the first family and Bush's top aides, the most generous foreign leader last year - by far - was Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah.
The State Department's annual tally of gifts to administration officials shows that Abdullah gave them $127,600 in jewelry and other presents last year, including a diamond-and-sapphire jewelry set for first lady Laura Bush that was valued at $95,500.
Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, 2002.
The Saudi royal family's gifts dwarfed those of other world leaders, according to the tally, and easily eclipsed Abdullah's $55,020 in gifts in 2002. Abdullah has been Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler since 1996 after a stroke sidelined King Fahd.
All of Abdullah's gifts, and most others, sit in the National Archives. By law, federal employees must report all gifts received from foreign governments. The president and vice president and their families can't keep any gifts worth more than $285, which become federal property. While in office, however, they can take the items out on indefinite loan from the Archives.
According to the State Department's records, Abdullah also gave the Bush family two sets of diamond and white gold jewelry by the exclusive Italian jeweler Bulgari and an $8,500 mantle clock "elaborately detailed in silver and gold vermeil."
Records say Bush received the gifts on June 3, 2003, while he was at a Middle East summit with Arab leaders, including Abdullah, in Egypt. Saudi Arabia is considered a key U.S. ally in the region.
Abdullah's gifts included ornamental daggers with ivory handles, worth $1,500, for Chief of Staff Andrew Card and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice; a miniature silver sword for Secretary of State Colin Powell, worth $1,500; and a small golden statue of a horse for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, worth $700.
The second-largest single gift was for President Bush, from Russian President Vladimir Putin: a book of original watercolor portraits of the 43 U.S. presidents, bound in red velvet studded with precious gems. It was valued at $45,000.
Other foreign leaders gave Bush pens, watches, briefcases, ceremonial clothing, framed artwork and enough ornate trinkets to fill a small museum. He received dates from the president of Tunisia (valued at $60), an Afghan rug from the U.S.-backed president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai ($4,500), and 300 pounds of lamb from the president of Argentina, Nestor Kirchner ($1,500).
French President Jacques Chirac, an outspoken critic of the U.S.-led war in Iraq, nonetheless gave Bush $1,900 in gifts, including a set of Christian Dior cologne, after-shave lotion and soap ($133).
The exchanging of gifts large and small is a long tradition among world leaders, not a way to curry favor, White House spokeswoman Erin Healy said.
"These are gifts that President and Mrs. Bush have accepted on behalf of the nation," Healy said. "Protocol dictates that leaders of nations exchange gifts."
To commemorate the signing of the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty in 1972, President Nixon gave Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev a Cadillac El Dorado. In 1996, President Clinton gave Chirac a TelePrompTer.
Clinton caused some controversy in 2001 on leaving the White House when it was revealed that he was keeping $190,000 in gifts received during his time in office. He eventually paid for $86,000 worth of the gifts.
© Copyright 2004 Knight-Ridder