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President Obama and Britain's Prime Minister Cameron in artful gift exchange


Barack Obama and David Cameron meet in the Oval Office. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - AP)

President Obama is getting smarter at diplomatic giving. His gifts to Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Washington this week from London, displayed a level of savvy that was lacking the last time he exchanged presents with a British leader.

Last year, then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave Obama a pen holder carved from a British warship. The president, on the other hand, was pilloried in the British press for his offering: 25 classic American movies -- which turned out to be incompatible with DVD players in the United Kingdom. And the two toy helicopters for Brown's sons were dismissed by pundits as an afterthought. (Obama's iPod offering to the queen got a thumbs down, too.)


"Twenty First Century City," Ben Eine (Courtesy of the British Embassy)

The pressure was on to get it right this time: Obama gave Cameron a signed color lithograph by American artist Ed Ruscha, one of leaders of the Pop art movement. The piece, "Column With Speed Lines," was selected for the red, white and blue colors matching both countries' flags.

Samantha Cameron, who is expecting a baby in September and didn't make the trip, got a basket of baby goodies. The prime minister's kids weren't neglected: Nancy, 6, received a silver necklace with eight White House charms; Elwen, 4, got a custom D.C. United jersey, reports our colleague Michael Shear.

Of course, Obama didn't pick up the gifts himself: The White House referred us to the State Department's Office of the Chief of Protocol, which oversees all gifts exchanged with foreign leaders and assists in finding exactly the right item for the right person (most of the time). The office didn't get back to us, so we don't know why Ruscha was selected -- although he did donate a work to the president's 2008 campaign.

The Obamas, by the way, received some cool stuff, too. Cameron reciprocated with another piece of art, "Twenty First Century City," by British graffiti artist Ben Eine. An official from 10 Downing Street told a very surprised Eine that the prime minister's wife was a fan and asked if he would donate a painting.

"It's not the kind of recognition I seek or get every day, but Cameron seems quite a positive kind of guy and Obama's a dude," said Eine, according to London's Guardian. "I would probably have had issues if it had been for Bush."

In addition to Eine's work, Cameron gave the first lady candles from London-based perfumer Miller Harris; Malia and Sasha got pink and purple Wellington boots.

By The Reliable Source  |  July 22, 2010; 1:04 AM ET
Categories:  44: Obama's Washington  
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