Bush Receives Expensive Gifts From Abroad
WASHINGTON – A $1 million painting from Saudi Arabia. An $18,000 pen from the United Arab Emirates. A $3 jar of fish bait from Morocco.
These sundry gifts to President Bush from foreign leaders share little other than the grace and goodwill with which they were given. But those gifts and hundreds more share a similar fate - they barely brush the president's hands before being carted off, crated and left to gather dust.
Gift-giving among foreign leaders is as common as a handshake. Much less common is putting those presents to use.
"The ironic twist is that all this money gets spent on things that no one ever gets to enjoy," says Jenny Sternaman, archivist at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (search) in Simi Valley, Calif.
Sternaman says thousands of gifts are carefully stored. Only a relatively few make it into displays at the presidential libraries; there are simply too many to exhibit.
White House aides log the foreign gifts given to the president and send them to the National Archives (search). There, the gifts are packed up and put in storage for Bush's future presidential library. Some are on display in the White House or president's ranch in Texas during his term only.
Gifts given to Bush include wooden stirrups from Peru, a cowboy hat from Canada and a long-handled ax from the Slovak Republic - the president likes to clear brush at the ranch. If he chooses to keep them, he has to disclose the gifts on financial forms.
The Constitution (search) says the president cannot accept any foreign present without the consent of Congress. Congress allows for acceptance if refusing the gift would probably cause offense or embarrassment to the giver or to the United States. That's usually the condition on which the gifts are accepted.
Generous were some world leaders, showering the president, first lady Laura Bush and others with the $18,000 "Stars and Stripes" Mont Blanc pen inset with rubies and diamonds on an American flag pattern. From Italy, there was an alabaster sculpture of four figures, titled "Allegory of the Triumph," valued at $30,000 and a wristwatch worth $14,500.
Another pricey gift, from Morocco, was a 17-inch knife made of 18-carat gold with diamonds and rubies on an ivory hilt. Value: $20,000.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair gave Bush a toiletries bag with the president's initials embossed in gold on the top ($351).
Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him an elaborately detailed silver coffee urn with six matching cups and a platter ($500).
Mexican President Vicente Fox gave Bush a $300 silver vase. Afghan President Hamid Karzai gave him a wool and silk rug worth $4,000.
Bush got a leather-bound reproduction of the Quran, hand lettered in the 16th century, from former Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit in January 2002 ($990).
The first family got a $1 million C.M. Russell oil canvas painting of a native American buffalo hunt from Saudi Arabian Ambassador Prince Bandar (search) bin Sultan. The painting is being stored at the National Archives until a library is built for Bush.
But it being the thought, not the cost, that counts, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski gave Bush a paperback book on beating terrorism - estimated to be worth $30. Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien gave Bush a marble base with a wooden pen rest worth $20, among other gifts.
Mrs. Bush was not left out. The former librarian got many books, including one on astrology from China, as well as jewelry from Pakistan, a gold and pink sequined hat from Uzbekistan and a black silk chiffon scarf from Germany.
Mali's President Alfa Omar Konare presented Secretary of State Colin Powell with a live ram as a gift during a trip to Mali. Powell's aides said it probably would be passed on to a village or family in Mali.
Bush has given foreign leaders things American. He has donated cowboy boots, crystal bowls and rare books and presented then-Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus with a basketball autographed by former NBA star Michael Jordan (search).