Although the United States has publically condemned Saudi Arabia for numerous human rights violations, US President Barack Obama accepted around $1.35 million in gifts from the kingdom last year, the US Department of State has revealed.
The Office of the Federal Register disclosed a list of annual gifts from foreign governments to US President Barack Obama, his family and several other federal employees in 2014. The list published a day before Thanksgiving shows that former Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud gave Obama two gold wristwatches valued at $85,240 and a gold-plated brass replica of the Makkah Clock Tower on marble base estimated at $57,000.
Further, First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters also received jewelry sets worth $1.13 million and $80,000 respectively.
Other US federal employees were not worse off either. On January 5, 2014, the Saudi king gave a $19,628 silver wristwatch to White House Staff Member Prem Kumar. He also sent $8,170 gold wristwatches to White House Staff Members Philip Gordon, Rob Malley, and Ben Rhodes. The Saudi government also gave Dr Susan Rice a gold wristwatch and figurine valued at $6,340.
King Abdullah also reportedly spent over $9.8 million on US lobbyists in 2013.
However, on the other end of the spectrum, the State Department’s 2014 human rights report accuses the Saudi government of physically abusing detainees, holding political prisoners, denying due process, committing arbitrary arrests, and restricting freedom of expression. Apart from all this, the Saudi government also beheaded bin Bakr al-Alawi, a Saudi national, for practicing sorcery and is set to execute a Palestinian poet to death for apostasy.
The State Department also listed many gifts to CIA Director John Brennan but without disclosing the donors’ names because “such information could adversely affect United States intelligence sources or methods”. Other CIA employees also received gifts with one getting an unidentified series of children’s books valued at $832.13. Surprisingly though, the children’s books were “retained for official use.”
The list also revealed gifts by other nations, including British Prime Minister David Cameron, who gave Obama a photograph and facsimile telegram from Winston Churchill estimated at $440. Further, Prince William gave the president a signed photographic portrait of Prince William valued at $888.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered a $440 photograph of the first American consulate in Jerusalem circa 1888, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave Obama an ornate metallic disc plaque valued at $625. The Iraqi government sent a vase worth $430 and Pope Francis also presented Obama with a bronze medal valued at $1,015.
However, according to US law, the First Family cannot keep any of these gifts without paying their market value. The State Department notes that non-acceptance of the gifts “would cause embarrassment to the donor and US government.”