Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Saudi Arabia’s powerful oil minister and architect of the Arab world’s drive to control its own energy resources in the 1970s and its subsequent ability to affect oil production, fuel prices and international affairs, died in London. He was 90.
His death was announced on Tuesday by Saudi state television.
In an era of turbulent energy politics, Mr. Yamani, a Harvard-trained lawyer, spoke for Arab oil producers on a world stage as the industry weathered Arab-Israeli wars, a revolution in Iran and growing pains. The world’s demand for oil lifted the governments of Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states into realms of unimaginable wealth. Crossing Europe, Asia and America to promote Arab oil interests, he met government leaders, went on television and became widely known. In a flowing Arabian robe or a Savile Row suit, speaking English or French, he straddled cultures, loving European classical music and writing Arabic poetry.
Mr. Yamani generally strived for price stability and orderly markets, but he is best known for engineering a 1973 oil embargo that led to soaring global prices, gasoline shortages and a quest for smaller cars, renewable energy sources and independence from Arab oil.
As the Saudi oil minister from 1962 to 1986, Mr. Yamani was the most powerful commoner in a kingdom that possessed some of the world’s largest oil reserves. For nearly 25 years, he was also the dominant official of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, whose rising and falling production quotas rippled like tides through worldwide markets.
In 1972, Mr. Yamani moved to wrest control over vast Gulf oil reserves from Aramco, the consortium of four American oil companies that had long exploited them. While Arab leaders demanded nationalization of Aramco — a takeover that might have cost American technical and marketing expertise, as well as capital — Mr. Yamani adopted a more moderate strategy.
Under the landmark “participation” agreement negotiated by Mr. Yamani, Saudi Arabia won the rights to acquire 25 percent of the foreign concessions immediately and to gradually raise their stakes to a controlling interest. Aramco, meanwhile, continued operating its concessions, profiting from extracting, refining and marketing the oil, although it had to pay sharply higher fees to the Saudi government.
The deal kept oil flowing to a dependent industrialized world and provided time for Arab oil producers to develop their own technical and marketing expertise. These developments eventually brought enormous prosperity to the Gulf states and a drastic shift of economic and political power in the region.
In 1973, after Israel defeated Egypt and Syria in the Yom Kippur War and Arab leaders demanded the use of oil as a political weapon, Mr. Yamani engineered an embargo to pressure the United States and other allies to withdraw support for Israel, and for Israel to withdraw from occupied Arab lands. The embargo sent shock waves around the world, caused a rift in the North Atlantic alliance and tilted Japan and other nations…