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"Inside the State Department" reveals diplomatic gifts: Bats, balls and Shaq's really big shoes

By The Reliable Source

Protocol Gift Officer David Solomon shows off a shoe autographed by Shaquille O'Neal on "Inside the State Department." (Courtesy National Geographic Channel)

In the diplomatic world, who knew sneakers were a prized offering? Not just any sneakers, of course: size 23 shoes autographed by Shaquille O'Neal.

"Inside the State Department," airing Monday night on the National Geographic Channel, is a serious, behind-the-scenes look at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her inner circle as they wage peace in New York, Pakistan, Abu Dhabi, Jerusalem, Morocco, Egypt and Afghanistan. But there are a fun couple of minutes when the cameras go into the inner sanctum of State's "gift vault."

Tucked behind a nondescript door in Washington headquarters, the room, lined with metal shelving, holds hundreds of gifts that Clinton hands out to foreign dignitaries. "We always want a gift to make sense," says Protocol Gift Officer David Solomon. "It's basically coming as a representation of the American people, so we always try to try and display our culture." Most of the goodies are boxed and wrapped in gold paper, but Solomon shows off a couple of selections: a painting by Arab American artist Helen Zughaib intended for the king of Morocco, a set of gold earrings selected for the country's princess.

Then Solomon pulls a giant white sneaker off the shelf (Shaq's), a baseball bat autographed by Derek Jeter and a signed basketball just like the one given to the president of Tanzania. "American sports memorabilia is really popular," he explains. And, lucky for taxpayers, donated by the teams and athletes.

Although gifts are researched and carefully selected, there are gaffes: President Obama's iPod gift to the queen of England raised eyebrows, and the British press had a field day with a basket of American movies presented to then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown -- in the wrong format, so impossible to watch on British DVD players.

What gifts did the president pack for his current Asian trip? A State Department official said it would not be appropriate to discuss the selections until they have been formally presented.

By The Reliable Source  | November 8, 2010; 1:05 AM ET
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Hillary Clinton uses the term visa versa in the trailer for this show. This term is incorrect. What a shame that we have a secretary of state that cannot speak English correctly.

Posted by: Kierancooks | November 8, 2010 11:38 AM | Report abuse

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