The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) has known many highly qualified ministers and technocrats, but very few people knew how to assume a high diplomatic role in which political cards are mixed with the technical vision.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, who was named as energy minister this month, is one of the most prominent oil diplomats in OPEC history. With his appointment, Prince Abdulaziz became the sixth minister in the history of Saudi Arabia to receive the oil file, after Abdullah al-Tariki, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, Hisham Nazer, Ali al-Nuaimi, and Khaled al-Falih.
Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman is the fourth son of King Salman bin Abdulaziz, after Princes Fahd, Sultan, and Ahmed. Since the 1980s, he has been active in the Energy ministry and has been a steady member of the Saudi delegation to OPEC.
In many situations, he was the “link” between the oil world and the higher authorities in the Kingdom, and in others, he was the mediator between the various OPEC countries.
“He was born into power, he understands power — when to use it and when not to use it,” said OPEC Secretary-General Mohammad Barkindo.
Prince Abdulaziz has always worked with clear diplomacy behind the scenes. But everyone who worked at OPEC knew what role he assumed.
He signed many achievements during his previous career with the Ministry of Petroleum (now Energy).
For example, he was part of the Kingdom’s negotiating delegation to join the World Trade Organization. One of the prince’s most notable achievements was the National Energy Conservation Campaign, which managed to move stagnating water to save Saudi oil, which was burned in terrible quantities every year.
The prince devoted most of his time to this campaign since 2013. Many accomplishments were made within its framework, including eliminating non-energy-saving air conditioners, setting strict requirements for the import of electrical appliances, and changing the specifications of cars imported by the Kingdom to be more fuel-efficient.
At OPEC, Prince Abdulaziz is popular with delegations and dozens of journalists who meet him constantly.
“People abroad do not realize unfortunately that when the princes enter the Ministry of Petroleum, they take off their ‘Bisht’ (cloak) and work like everyone else; they are the same as other employees. Hadn't we worked hard, the Saudi oil industry would not have been a leader now,” Prince Abdulaziz said in one of the occasions.
Apart from oil diplomacy, who is Prince Abdulaziz? How did his journey begin with oil?
In 1987, Prince Abdulaziz received a call from Minister Hisham Nazer, who had succeeded Sheikh Ahmed Zaki Yamani in late 1986. He asked him to join him in the ministry.
“I was very happy when the minister called me, but I was on vacation,” Prince Abdulaziz said. “I was newly married at the time and hesitated a lot to end my vacation and join the minister. But I found all the support from my wife and decided to cut off the leave and join the delegation,” he recounted.
Before joining the ministry, the prince was active in the academic world. He lived in the Eastern Province, where he headed the Department of Economic and Industrial Studies at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dhahran.
Prince Abdulaziz’s career in the ministry began in 1987 as an adviser to the minister, a position he held until 1995 when he was appointed as Undersecretary for Petroleum Affairs. In May 2004, a royal order was issued appointing him as senior assistant minister of petroleum affairs. He remained in office until he became deputy minister and then minister of state for energy.
Prince Abdulaziz is also an active member of the Board of Governors of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies in Britain and the International Association for Energy Economics in Washington, DC.