You may think that the outcome of our oil crisis rests on the joint decisions of world leaders after years of scientific research, weighed alternatives and high-level international conferences.
But you are wrong.
Whether you have enough gas in your car or oil in your furnace this year may have little to do with just those things. Rather, they will depend on the tangled destinies of the heavens, the twisted fates of the stars.
Even now, this very minute, Sheik Ahmed "Zaki" Yamani, the oil minister of Saudi Arabia, may well be twirling his astroglobe, or poring over his astrological charts, immersed in his calculations.
Because, you see, Sheik Yamani is an astrologer and according to those who know him intimately, he never makes a major decision without consulting his charts. "My ambition, my sensitivity, my creativity, my imagination, my love for my country and my family and all mankind. . . mostly come from my being a Cancer," he will tell you.
Yamani was in washington for several days last week, meeting with members of the adminstration (Secretary of the Treasury G. William Miller even came to his hotel to see him. Yamani did not go to Miller), being feted at dinners and cocktails, giving speeches and holding conferences, all, he says, for one reason. "Feel that we might face a serious economic crisis. I'm trying to convey how serious it is."
In fact his message is a little clearer than that. What he is saying in a much less subtle way than in the past is this: Saudi Arabia has oil, the United States needs oil. Saudi Arabia is not pleased with U.S. policy in the Middle East, especially on the Israeli question. If the United States wants oil, well. . . .
This is know in the foreign policy biz as linkage.
He conveyed this message around town so often last week that CBS's Face the Nation even canceled his appearance yesterday.
In between these myriad rounds of meetings and rendezvous, Yamani found 30 minutes in his busy schedule for an interview.
Outside his suite at the Watergate Hotel are at least four security guards.
Sheik Yamani takes no chances after his two close brushes with death, even through his chart says that he is very well aspected.
Yamani was standing next to King Faisal, his patron, when Faisal was assassinated, and he later learned that one of the assassins' bullets has been intended for him. That was in 1975.
Later that year, in December, Yamani was kidnapped at the OPEC conference in Vienna where several others were murdered. He was threatened with murder and hauled around the Middle East for several days before the Saudis ransomed him for $1 million.
Perhaps this is the reason he always carries with him a set of worry beads, which he fingers delicately through conversations, meetings, interviews -- never stopping.
He sits down in a chair and beckons to a reporter, patting the adjoining sofa and speaking in a soothing voice. But it seems more a command than a request.
"Come and sit here, where I can talk to you," he says. Tea is brought. Yamani leans back in his chair expectantly, a tiny inscrutable smile on his face, his narrow, black, darting eyes moving over one as rapidly as his fingers travel the worry beads.
"Am I worried?" he asks, looking down at the pale coral beads. "I am worried so much about this interview," he says.
If you closed your eyes, you could almost imagine sitting in a tent in the middle of the desert, Sheik Yamani in robes and headdress, saying to you as he trades you a camel for a diamond-encrusted saber, "I am worried about you taking advantage of me."
Talk about an oil slick. This man is nobody's fool.
He is not Saudi Arabia's front man for nothing.
Yamani is 49, and through his soft, round face shows hardly a line, one would not say he younger. He has the manner of a careful man, a man who has worked to get where he is. And indeed he did. A commoner, he went to the University of Cario, then studied comparative law at New York University before returning to Saudi Arabia to enter government service and eventually the service of his benefactor. King Faisal.
Know for his fondness for women, Yamani divorced his first wife, the mother of his three oldest children, and in 1975 married the daughter of the former chief of protocol of Saudi Arabia, turned businessman. His new wife ("an Aquarius with Cancer and pregnant with their third child.
He is dressed to perfection, in a beautifully tailored, dark blue, pinstriped, three-piece suit, a perfectly cut shirt, an elegant silk tie. His graying hair and goatee are neatly trimmed. His delicate slim hands, almost feminine, are exquisitely manicured. Through he has a tendency to gain weight, he is slim, the result of dieting and exercise. He speaks in dulcet, almost seductive tones.
He is pleased with his remark about worrying over the interview. He glances quickly at Hassan Yassin, a Saudi Man Friday for visting dignitaries, a lobbyist for various American oil companies that wish to deal with the Saudis.
Yassin grins his approval.
"Perhaps Yamani should lie on the couch for the interview?" jests Yassin.
"Aha, psychoanalysis?" asks Yamani with a smile. He continues to finger his worry beads, then looks down and at his hands and shrugs, "It's a habit, you know.
Some people, they smoke. It is not a harmful habit."
Sheik Yamani speaks very slowly and very softly, almost in a whisper. Sometimes you have to lean closer to hear what he is saying. There are long pauses between questions and answers. He tells you everything and tell you nothing.
"I think everybody should tell others only what he wants them to know," he says. "If he's not up to dealing with it then he is below average." kHe pauses. "But I don't ever overrestimate myself. It is very dangerous. Besides, in our religion it is a sin to overestimate oneself."
Sheik Yamani doesn't have to worry about committing a sin, at least in that area.
His chart has already given him quite a bit to feel confident about. Ambition, sensitivity, creativity, imagination, love for country, for family and for all mankind, to name a few.
"You must know that I am interested in astrology," he says, brightening with pleasure.
"I am a Cancer with Leo ascendant and a Leo moon. If you see my chart you'd be amazed. It's unique. Excellent aspects."
What are you? He asks. When told, his face softens in sympathy. "Oh, poor you," he moans. You must suffer a lot with that sensitivity."
Sheik Yamani insists that he never goes to an astrologer, though those who know him say he has a fortune teller in London whom he relies on quite heavily for advice. "I never go to an astrologer," he says. "I do it myself, I do my own charts."
In his house (one of many) in the mountains of Taif where the king and all loyal subjects summer, Yamani is said to have a large collection of astrological paraphernalia.
But Yamani is quick to point out that he is interested in the stars and not the silly predictions one reads in the daily newspapers. "I don't look at that," he says. "I don't believe in that. I don't really care about predictions. I am fascinated by the relationship of the stars and this universe, to the planets to the human nature. It is almost a science rather than a means of prediction."
The United States is a Cancer country, for instance, "and New York City is a Cancer," he says.
This is good news for all who are worried about gas lines because it means that Sheik Yamani, who is a Cancer, will feel empathy for and relate well to a country that is his same sign.
Then too and here's more good news, "Saudi Arabia is a Virgo almost on the cusp of Libra," he says.
And as Sheik Yamani points out, Cancer and Virgo get along very well except that he says; "Virgo is very critical of Cancer."
It is clear that, through the Saudis are critical of the United States, they are also worried for out welfare. "If anything happens to you, we will greatly suffer."
For this reason Yamani admittedly has a keen interest in American politics and in the ups and downs of politicians. He is very hestitant to criticize President Carter, through he is not exactly full of praise, either.
Last week, a dinner party in honor of Yamani given by Hassan Yassin and his wife was an interesting study in how the Saudis, or a least some Saudis, see the American political furture.
Despite the fact that there were four senators, two ambassadors, sereral State Department types and the chief of protocol, Yassin defied all rules of protocol by seating Sheila Kennedy, the wife of young Joe Kennedy, on Yamani's right.
Pat Caddell, Carter's pollster, was the only person representing the Carter administration. In his speech after dinner, Yamani mentioned three people: Sen. Charles Percy, whose Alliance to Save Energy conference at Dumbarton Oaks had brought Yamani to Washington; Jesse Jackson, who arrived shortly after dinner was served; and John Connally, who had recently stated his position on the Middle East, a position seen as the Saudi line.
"So many politicians in this country are not free to say what is in the best interests of this country," says Yamani. "Percy had the courge to speak up. So did Jesse Jackson and, lately, John Connally."
There are those who suspect that Connally is the favored Saudi candidate for the presidency, but Yamani would only say of him, "I think he has a very strong personality."
Through Yamani will not say what he thinks of the Carter Administration energy policies, he is no reluctant to say what he thinks the United States had better do fast to conserve energy and to prevent a crisis.
He ticks them off on his fingers as easily and naturally as he plays with his worry beads.
Gas rationing with coupons, raising prices, improving mileage, encouraging public transporation, producing an electrical car: These are immediate moves the United States should make he says. And for the long term; America should invest in alternative sources of energy such as solar of fusion.
The most important thing Americans can do, and Yamani makes this very clear without saying it expressly, is to change their political views on the Palestinian-Isreli question.
However, Yamani is quite pleased by what he sees as a definite movement in what he considers to be the right direction.
"There is a definite trend toward the Arabs," he says. "Time is not running in the interests of the Israelis. If they are clever they will choose peace."
For some time now the Saudi Arabians have been considering lauching a major advertising campaign in the United States to improve their image and to sway public opinion in favor of the Palestinian cause.
"It would improve our relationships," says Yamani. "There is a difference in cultural backgrounds. It's always good to know each other.
"A public relations effort in my country by the United States and the same thing by the Saudis in your country would be a good thing."
At this point Hassan Yassin pipes up from his side of the room that he does't think it is a good idea. "It would look like Saudi Arabia is trying to buy Americans with their advertising money," he says.
Yamani give him a look, his eyelids half closed.
Yassin quickly adds, "Besides, why do we need a public relations campaign when we have someone like Yamani who can speak for us, someone who is so effective."
Yamani leans back and smiles his inscrutable smile again. "We will think about it. And then we will think about it again," he says. "We did not decide yet to do something."
Yet he realize that American public opinion about Arabs is not what he would hope it to be.
"It is a very serious problem," he admits. "At least it was a real problem in the past. It know it only too well.
"Sometimes in the future when everybody realizes that Saudi Arabia is a true friend and that we are doing something unique in the history of mankind, then we can do whatever we want. Then we can launch a public relations campaign. A friend can do that, not to buy his friendship but to strengthen friendly ties . . ."
Yamani is more hopeful than he has been in years about what he calls the turn about in American public opinion. And he attributes it to one thing.
"The main cause for it," he says simply, "is the so-called Arab oil embargo. It was the only purpose of that. To throw attention to the fact that you had to have Arab oil.And that Arabs have a problem with the Israelis which makes the Arabs suffer a great deal. We think if we have access to you and to American public opinion your feelings toward justice will enable you to take a neutral, objective attitude and policy. And so this is what happened." He smiles.
Zaki Yamani amazes a lot of people. Not only for his smoothness but for his staying power. In the Arab world, a world where those in power are fickle and favorites rise and fall everyday, he is referred to as the cat with nine lives.
He is the quintessential survior. "I am," he says with some confidence, "the longest-surviving minister in the entire Arab world."
When King Faisal, his mentor, protector and patron, was assassinated, they said Yamani's days, if not physical, then political, were numbered. In Saudi Arabia, hardly anyone last without a patron. But Yamani stayed.
Every year rumors abound from London to Geneva to Vienna to Washington that Zaki Yamani hasn't got a chance. Yet year after year, he reappears like a genie to deal the card.
In the past few years, many of his visible accoutrements of power, his titles, his positions have been removed by the Saudi government.
His main source of power, the setting of oil policy, was taken away from him by the royal family when a big petro-industrial project, the Supreme Petroleum Council, was set up and the top job went to a rival of his.
Yet here he is again, back in Washington, summoning our secretary of the Treasury of his own hotel.
Even now the rumora are that Yamani will be out by the end of this year.
He will only smile again. "I wonder if I have survived," he says philosophically. "I wonder if there ever was any danger that I would not survive orwhether it was in the minds of others or even wishful thinking."
To survive physically, he says, "this is God. I don't deserve credit for that." And of course there is his chart, with its good aspects.
To survive politically, well, Yamani has an answer for that. "If you are honest with yourself, dedicated to your work and," and he emphasizes this next reason, "you are not dying to stay where you are, then maybe," and his voice lowers to a whisper, "maybe you will stay longer than the others."
Then his eyelids droop in assumed indifference. "But I am not a politician anyway, am I, Hassan?"
Yassin nods quickly in agreement.
He leans over, picks up the telephone, dials a number, asks to speak to the Saudi ambassador and speaks rapidly in Arabic.
When he finishes he barely nods his head, a sign that the interview is over.
He stands up and walks to the door, only at the last moment inquiring with genuine interest, "Why, if you are a Cancer, do you not eat a lot and get fat?"
He is told the reason is a constant agony of dieting and exercise. He nods in sympathy and understanding, then reaches over and grabs a reporter's hand, examining the palm, squeezing it, clucking over it. "Aha, you are a Cancer, so sensitive. Ah," he exclaims to Yassin, "no square in Jupiter! Do you know you have no square in Jupiter?"
He then offers his own plan for inspection.
His lifeline extends around the corner of his thumb and to the back of his hand.
He is told he has the longest lifeline anyone has ever seen.
"Yes," he nods. "I know."