Those who like to make their travel plans well in advance should probably pencil in mid–February onwards next year as a time when it may be wiser not to be in the Middle East or, indeed, to travel at all. If the UN resolution on Iraq (being discussed in New York as these words are written) is approved in the form put forward by Britain and the United States, the UN Weapons Inspectors will begin work in 45 days and report back to the Security Council 60 days thereafter. If Iraq has co–operated with the Inspectors and destroyed its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons by then, there will be no need for military action. However, if it has not done so, it will face “serious consequences as a result of its continued violations of its obligations”. There is also an earlier deadline – Iraq is required to provide within 30 days “a currently accurate, full and complete inventory” of its weapons of mass destruction.

These are tough conditions and it will be surprising if Saddam Hussein feels able to accept them to the letter. If he does not do so he will face military action by the United States and its allies acting either on behalf of the UN or unilaterally on their own account. Weeks of negotiation at the UN have secured a resolution that requires a report back to the Security Council by the Inspectors before “serious consequences” follow but, regrettably, the United States still reserves the right to act alone regardless of the views of the Council.

Ray Fleming

Atlantic flights

The European Court of Justice has upheld the European Commission's claim that the UK and seven other EU states acted illegally by signing bilateral aviation deals with the United States; but the ruling has already been interpreted in different ways by interested parties. The Commission said it believed it now had the authority to negotiate aviation treaties with the United States on behalf of all EU states; some legal opinion, however, thought that the judgement stopped short of giving the Commission such a mandate. Richard Branson said it presented “an historic opportunity” for the UK and the European Commission in partnership to negotiate a true ”open skies” deal with the US. On the other hand, bmi british midland, which has been negotiating for years for a bi–lateral agreement with the US to fly the Atlantic route, said that the Court's ruling would “not necessarily bring bilateral agreements to an end.” There has been no reaction yet from the United States. It has no obligation to accept the EU as its sole negotiating partner on airline traffic and it may be wary of agreeing to do so since a voice representing the EU's eleven airlines would have considerable authority – it might, for instance, push hard for the US to open its domestic market to European carriers instead of confining them to major city destinations. Only one thing seems certain: the goal of greater competition and cheaper fares over the Atlantic is still some way off.