Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
Edit
Long-serving Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani dies at 90
AP

Long-serving Saudi oil minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani dies at 90

  • Updated
  • 0
{{featured_button_text}}

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Ahmed Zaki Yamani, a long-serving oil minister in Saudi Arabia who led the kingdom through the 1973 oil crisis that shattered the West and once found himself held hostage by the assassin Carlos the Jackal, died Tuesday in London. He was 90.

Saudi state television reported his death, without offering a cause. It said he would be buried in the Muslim holy city of Mecca.

Known for his Western-style business suits and soft-spoken, measured tones, Yamani helped Saudi Arabia command a dominating presence in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries from its birth. The kingdom remains a heavyweight in the group even today and its decisions ripple through the oil industry, affecting prices from the barrel down to the gasoline pump.

“To the global oil industry, to politicians and senior civil servants, to journalists and to the world at large, Yamani became the representative, and indeed the symbol, of the new age of oil," author Daniel Yergin wrote in his seminal book on the oil industry “The Prize.” “His visage, with his large, limpid, seemingly unblinking brown eyes and his clipped, slightly curved Van Dyke beard, became familiar the planet over.”

Yamani became oil minister in 1962 and would lead the ministry until 1986. He served a crucial role in the nascent oil cartel OPEC as producers around the world began to try to dictate prices to the world market previously dominated by the economic policies of Western nations.

OPEC's current secretary-general, Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo, and the cartel offered their “deepest and heartfelt condolences on the passing of one of the most respected and recognized industry leaders.”

Yamani was the first Saudi representative on OPEC’s board of governors in 1961. From his position, he became known not for the hysterics that accompanied years of turmoil across the wider Middle East, but an ever-calm negotiating style that Saudi ministers after him sought to mimic.

But that style for an oil kingpin known by the honorific “the Sheikh” would be tested by the times, which included upheaval in the global energy market. That was especially true in the 1973 Mideast War, in which Egypt, Syria and its allies launched a surprise attack on Israel on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.

When the U.S. under President Richard Nixon moved to support Israel, Arab producers in OPEC agreed to cut their supply by 5% a month. When Nixon continued his support, the decision gave birth to what would become known as the “oil weapon” — a total embargo on the U.S. and other countries.

Prices in the U.S. would rise by 40%, leading to gasoline shortages and long lines at the pump. Oil prices globally would quadruple, leading to the wealth now seen across the Gulf Arab states today as the West's economy suffered.

Speaking to Danish television at the time, Yamani allowed himself to be blunter than usual.

“I think what we have as an oil weapon is far more greater than what we did. What we did was nothing at all. I think we can cut down production to let us say 20%. Instead of 25% it will be 80%. You think that Europe or Japan or the United States can survive with this?” he asked his interviewer.

Yamani added: “Your whole economy will collapse all of a sudden. If the Americans are thinking of a military action, this is also another possibility, but then — this is a suicide.”

In 1975, Yamani twice found himself a part of major historical events. He stood just outside the room when a nephew of King Faisal assassinated the monarch in March.

In December, Yamani was among those taken hostage at OPEC headquarters in Vienna, an attack that killed three people and saw 11 OPEC ministers and dozens of others seized. The attack ended up with all the pro-Palestinian militants and those held hostage released.

Afterward, Yamani described Carlos, a Venezuelan whose real name is Ilich Ramírez Sánchez, as a “ruthless terrorist who operates with cold-blooded, surgical precision.” From that moment on, Yamani traveled with an entourage of bodyguards everywhere he went.

Anis Naccache, a former pro-Palestinian militant who participated in the 1975 OPEC raid, died Monday in Syria at age 69 after battling the coronavirus.

Yamani also oversaw what would become the full nationalization of the Arabian American Oil Co. after the 1973 oil crisis. Today, it's better known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., or Aramco, a major employer for the kingdom and its main source of revenue.

In 1986, Saudi King Fahd dismissed Yamani with a terse statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency. At the time, it was believed that Yamani disagreed with the king in his insistence OPEC work out a permanent system of production quotas and that the kingdom would be given a bigger share of the total. Saudi Arabia ultimately went along with another interim arrangement.

Yamani was born in Mecca in 1930, when camels still roamed the streets of the holy city. His father and grandfather were religious teachers and Islamic lawyers. He ultimately studied at New York University and Harvard. Twice married, he is survived by multiple children and grandchildren.

———

Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

Be the first to know

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

A SpaceX rocket has a major crash, old photos come to life and a New York woman makes a weird discovery. These are the must-watch videos of the week.

The best local coverage, unlimited

Sign up for a digital subscription to The Press of Atlantic City now and take advantage of a great offer.

LEARN MORE

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.

PLEASE BE ADVISED: Soon we will no longer integrate with Facebook for story comments. The commenting option is not going away, however, readers will need to register for a FREE site account to continue sharing their thoughts and feedback on stories. If you already have an account (i.e. current subscribers, posting in obituary guestbooks, for submitting community events), you may use that login, otherwise, you will be prompted to create a new account.

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.

Topics

Breaking News