In today’s world of turmoil and tension, it seems that the greatest way to break the ice between world leaders is to offer a gift. While it may seem commonplace that meetings are started with offering a gift to respect one another, the practice of diplomatic gifts actually has a unique background. In fact, the framers of the United States Constitution believed that accepting gifts from foreign leaders would lead to corruption and bribery.
Thankfully, the framers changed their minds and added Article 1, Section 9 to the Constitution, permitting leaders to accept gifts from foreign diplomats to show respect. Almost 200 years later, Congress passed a law in 1966 that prevented leaders from keeping gifts worth over $335 as personal property. So, when President Obama was recently given over $200,000 worth of jewels from a Saudi diplomat, the gift was immediately sent to the National Archives.
Nowadays, the art of gift giving seems that it is becoming a contest of weird and unique gifts, rather than anything practical. For example, there have been plenty of live animals given away, as well as books, DVDs, and even an iPod loaded with Broadway songs to Queen Elizabeth II. If you think those are interesting, here are 10 other unique gifts from the world of diplomatic relations.
10. George H. W. Bush Receives A Komodo Dragon (1990)
Not only was it the first time that a US President had received a Komodo dragon as a gift, but the dragon George H. W. Bush received in 1990 from the Indonesian government was actually the largest dragon in the western hemisphere at that time. Despite the historical importance of the dragon, Bush was unable to keep the gift and he donated it to the Cincinnati Zoo. While at the zoo, the nine-foot dragon grew to over 300 pounds and produced over 30 offspring, which were donated to zoos around the country. In Indonesia, dragons are considered a national treasure for their ability to take down prey twice their size, including deer and water buffalo.
9. George W. Receives Lamb Meat (2009)
It has been documented that while serving as the US President for two terms, George W. Bush and his family received almost 1,000 gifts per month. We all know that he was a red blooded Texan, and could probably grill his fair share of meat when not in the Oval Office. In 2009, Bush accepted a gift of over 300 pounds of lamb meat from the President of Argentina. The gift was more than likely donated, as the Secret Service probably would have advised against eating the meat from a foreign country, but the gesture was well respected by Bush.
8. Obama Receives Olive Oil (2009)
After finally settling into the White House, President Obama was given a bottle of olive oil from the President of the Palestinian Authority. The gift was valued around $75 and remains as one of the cheapest gifts President Obama has received while in office, according to the Federal Registry. It’s unclear whether or not the President was able to use the olive oil, but it was certainly one of the oddest gifts he has received while in office.
7. Hillary Clinton Tries to “Reset” Relations With Russia (2009)
After years of increasing tension between the United States and Russia, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Sergei Lavrov to ease a bit of the tension that had built up. To kick off their meeting, Clinton presented Lavrov with a yellow box with a red button in the middle with the words “reset” and “peregruzka” engraved on the face. Not only is the gift kind of lame, but whoever did the translation of the word “reset” was incorrect, as the word printed translated to “overloaded” instead. The gaff had to be a little embarrassing to say the least, as the reporters at the meeting laughed and took plenty of pictures.
6. Vladimir Putin Gets a Puppy (2010)
As you read earlier, it’s not uncommon for leaders to give away live animals. Well, for all you dog people out there, this one’s for you. In 2010, Russian President Vladimir Putin and then Prime Minister of Bulgaria Boyko Borisov greeted each other and then the fun began. In a friendly gesture, Borisov gifted a 10-week-old Bulgarian Shepard named Buffy to the Russian President. Honestly, it’s probably one of the cutest dogs gifted in modern day diplomacy, but it wasn’t the first time Putin had received a dog from a foreign diplomat. It’s also rumored that in the past, Putin received a black lab, an Akita, and a Tiger which was quickly sent to a wildlife preserve.
5. Iran Pokes Fun at the US With Russia (2013)
We all know that for the last few decades, diplomacy between the United States and Iran has been difficult to say the least. As the US Military’s surveillance program increased and drones became more prevalent, Iran took it upon itself to stick it to the US government in a meeting with Russian officials in October, 2013. During the meeting, Iran’s military presented a model of a US drone to the Russian Air Force in an attempt to show that they had in fact shot down a US drone several months earlier (the United States vehemently denied that allegation). Today, you can find a smaller version of the gift in Iranian toy stores selling for cheap, but you probably won’t find one in the room of Natasha or Malia Obama.
4. Saddam Hussein and Donald Rumsfeld Exchange Disturbing Video (1983)
One of the weirdest, and most disturbing, diplomatic gifts comes from none other than Saddam Hussein, the former President of Iraq. In his memoir that was released in 2011, Rumsfeld noted that during a meeting with Hussein in 1983, he gave Rumsfeld a three minute long video full of footage showing Syrian military members and young boys biting snakes’ heads off and stabbing puppies with Syrian Dictator Hafez al-Assad laughing in the background. Maybe Saddam knew that he was floating on thin ice with the United States, but there was no doubt that he was pushing an agenda during the meeting once the first handshake was exchanged.
3. Obama Receives Crocodile Insurance (2011)
I’m going to go ahead and assume that while he was busy overhauling the US health care system, President Obama wasn’t too concerned with providing Crocodile insurance to the masses. On a visit to Australia’s Northern Territory in November 2011, the territory’s Chief Minister, Paul Henderson, gave away an insurance policy worth $50,000 to the Obama family during his stay, just in case the Secret Service dozed off while on duty. With the region being famous for having the most Crocs throughout Australia, you can’t blame Henderson for trying to be safe rather than sorry. Obama gleefully accepted the insurance policy, stating, “I have to admit when we reformed health care in America, crocodile insurance is one thing we left out!”
2. The Chinese and “Panda Diplomacy” (1972)
Ranking near the top of the “cute” list of diplomatic gifts, the Chinese have been practicing Panda diplomacy for over one thousand years. Beginning with the Tang Dynasty (625-705AD), the Chinese have given numerous Pandas away as gifts to leaders, although the practice wasn’t revived until the 1950s by the People’s Republic of China. From 1958-1982, the Chinese gave away 23 Pandas to nine different countries. In 1972, President Richard Nixon was the recipient of Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing during his visit to China. In return, Nixon gave a couple of Ox and the Pandas were sent to the National Zoo in Washington D.C. where they were visited by over 1 million people during their first year at the zoo.
1. Francois Hollande’s Camel Ends Up as Stew (2013)
2013 was a rough year for the French. As if a slumping economy and a few scandals regarding the country’s budget wasn’t enough, the camel gifted to President Francois Hollande ended up on the dinner table. After sending French troops to Mali to help push out Islamic rebels that had seized the northern part of the country, Malian officials felt that the best way to thank Hollande was to give him an exotic animal. Unfortunately, the relationship between the camel and Hollande got off to a rocky start and never progressed. So, Hollande gave the camel to a a family from Timbuktu which ended up slaughtering the camel before they made it into a dinnertime stew.