Ben Rhodes: Saudis Gave Obama Officials Suitcases Filled with Jewels

US President Barack Obama smiles alongside King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia during meetings in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, June 29, 2010. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

On tour to promote his new book The World As It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, former speechwriter and deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said Saudi officials lavished visiting Obama administration officials with suitcases full of jewels during a 2009 visit.

The UK Guardian describes the relevant passage of the book:

After landing in Saudi Arabia in June 2009, Rhodes writes, US officials were taken by golf cart to “identical housing units amid the rolling desert”, in a compound owned by the monarchy.

“When I opened the door to my unit, I found a large suitcase,” he writes. “Inside were jewels.”

Rhodes initially thought it was a bribe aimed at him because he was writing the “Cairo speech”, intended as an address to the Muslim world, that Obama was due to deliver in Egypt on the next stop on the trip. But then he found that others in the White House delegation had received similar gifts.

In an email exchange with the Guardian, Rhodes said he and the other officials turned the bags full of jewels over to the State Department protocol office.

“You have the option to buy the gifts, but given the price – I don’t remember what it was but it was tens of thousands, I believe – no one kept them that I recall,” he said.

The Guardian noted that the late Saudi King Abdullah presented First Lady Michelle Obama with $132,000 in ruby and diamond jewelry, along with other luxury gifts for her husband and two daughters. The Obamas turned all of these gifts over to the U.S. National Archives, as required by law. Protocol states that such gifts must generally be accepted to avoid giving offense but, as Rhodes explained, the gifts must be either purchased by the recipient or turned over to the U.S. government.)

U.S. News and World Report consulted the State Department registry of gifts in 2015 to detail other presents from the Saudi monarchy to the Obamas:

For the president himself: a gold and silver watch, estimated to be worth $18,240; a gold-plated brass replica of the Makkah Clock Tower, estimated at $57,000; and another watch, this one white gold, estimated at $67,000.

In total, these items are worth about $142,240 – chump change compared to the money Abdullah dropped on First Lady Michelle Obama.

From the king, FLOTUS accepted a diamond and emerald jewelry set, an estimated $560,000 value, and a diamond and pearl jewelry set, worth about $570,000.

Obama daughters Sasha and Malia received a diamond and emerald jewelry set and a diamond and ruby jewelry set, totaling $80,000. To share – and from Saudi Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud – the Obama family got a model palm tree, several bottles of perfume, eight robes, three capes, a couple of muumuus, a satin outfit, a velvet gown, and four ornate boxes.

Overall bling total: $1,352,240.

“Gifts given to the Trump family and entourage in private have not been made public. The State Department protocol gift unit has not yet published its records for 2017,” the Guardian added.


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