He survived a bombing that left him badly wounded, and defended Iran’s oil interests through war and sanctions. Hossein Kazempour Ardebili, who died on Saturday, was one of the ultimate OPEC negotiators.
Kazempour -- steely, charming, and combative -- was Iran’s envoy to the OPEC oil cartel almost uninterruptedly from 1985. He was a constant in international energy circles even as administrations in Tehran came and went.
“Don’t forget that from when oil was $6 dollars a barrel to when it was $126, I defended Iran’s national interest,” he said in an interview with state-run Hamshahri newspaper in 2008. “If Iran has had success in the international energy sector, I have been one of the main agents of this success.”
Kazempour, who died at 68 after a brain hemorrhage, was a stubborn negotiator. At one OPEC meeting in Vienna in 2018, the debate grew heated as Saudi Arabia suggested that Tehran’s recent production increases meant it should now join the group in making cuts. Kazempour’s arm went up, in a typically courteous but unyielding gesture, to interject: if anyone had flooded the market, it was Iran’s arch-rival Saudi Arabia. Iran remained inflexible and prevailed.
The now famous meeting in March this year that unleashed a vicious price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia was one he missed. Heart problems meant he was too vulnerable to risk catching the coronavirus, and he stayed home.
Just over a year before, he had made his mark at a mid-winter meeting in Vienna: Iran’s position almost derailed the agreement before a last-minute deal.
In March 2000, he had gone further. Kazempour was left to represent Iran at a meeting after Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh departed early in protest at U.S. pressure on the cartel to raise production. He refused to sign the eventual decision, and the unanimous statement normally issued at the end of each meeting was scuppered. He grinned in satisfaction.
The steel he brought to the role was forged by years of hard experiences.
In 1981, while serving in the Commerce Ministry, he was caught in a bomb attack on the headquarters of the Islamic Republic Party. According to his account to an acquaintance, he went to Switzerland for treatment and had to learn to walk again. Another person who knew him said he had hearing loss. He rarely spoke of it.