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.
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 1973, file photo, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi Arabian oil minister is pictured at a press conference at the Waldorf Astoria in New York. Yamani, a long-serving oil minister in Saudi Arabia who led the kingdom through the 1973 oil crisis, the nationalization its state energy company and later found himself kidnapped by the assassin Carlos the Jackal, died Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in London. He was 90. (AP Photo/Harry Harris, File)
Credit: Harry Harris
Credit: Harry Harris
FILE - In this Dec. 14, 1976, file photo, Saudi Oil Minister Ahmed Zaki Yamani listens to newsmen's questions during a news conference at Doha, Qatar, after he arrived to attend OPEC meeting. Yamani, a long-serving oil minister in Saudi Arabia who led the kingdom through the 1973 oil crisis, the nationalization its state energy company and later found himself kidnapped by the assassin Carlos the Jackal, died Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021, in London. He was 90. (AP Photo, File)