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Putin’s Gift from Iran

putin_leopard050310.jpgIt’s always fun to pay attention to what kinds of official gifts are exchanged between countries and heads of state.  Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, for example, is very fond of giving visiting dignitaries a replica of the sword of Simon Bolivar, which doesn’t quite send the same message as a framed replica of the Magna Carta.  Peter Pace, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was given an M900 machine gun from his Russian counterparts, while regime in Singapore presented Laura Bush with ab exercise machine.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has plenty of reasons to be feeling generous toward Russia, whose ongoing intervention, foot dragging, and rejection have helped make any meaningful sanctions a distant possibility – say what you will about the “reset” of relations with Washington.  So what does the Iranian leader give to Vladimir Putin?  Two rare Persian leopards, of course – which were actually swapped for two rare Amur tigers from Russia, which the government says they will use to re-build the depleted wild population of the animal in Russia.

Putin has really been going all out on building his animal Animal Kingdom image – we’ve seen him swim with dolphins, “rescue” journalists by shooting a tiger, “bareback” horse riding, and just last week he cuddled with a sedated polar bear.  The photos make for great PR:  I’m tough, but I care, they say, not without a good level of desperation.  Nobody’s buying that one of the world’s largest oil exporters is suddenly an environmentalist, but here we go.  I wonder if Surkov has started drinking again…