UN Delays Work on Human Cloning Treaty for a Year

The U.N. General Assembly decided on Tuesday to put off negotiations for a year on a treaty banning human cloning that the Bush administration wants to extend to research on stem cells.

All 191 U.N. members agree on a treaty that would prohibit cloning of human beings. But nations are divided about whether to allow cloning human embryos for stem cell or other research, known as "therapeutic" cloning.

The assembly's legal committee, by a one-vote margin, last month said a treaty should not be negotiated for two years, thereby virtually derailing the measure. Some 66 scientific academies around the world support therapeutic cloning.

The two sides compromised on Tuesday on a one-year delay in what a U.S. envoy said was the best deal Washington could get. But several diplomats said a year was not enough to bridge differences.

Tuesday's decision, reached without a vote, puts the issue of banning cloning on the assembly's next agenda, which begin in September 2004.

Costa Rica led the arguments and drafted a resolution for the United States and its 60 supporters for a total ban. Among their backers are some Latin American and European Catholic nations, such as Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland, who portray "therapeutic" cloning as the taking of human lives.

Another 30 nations, led by Britain and Belgium and including France, Japan and South Africa, are just as adamant that a world ban on research was out of the question.

"It is clear that there is no consensus in respect to therapeutic cloning research," Britain's deputy ambassador, Adam Thomson, told the assembly.

"But by ignoring this fact and pressing for action to ban all cloning, supporters of the Costa Rican resolution have effectively destroyed the possibility of action on an important area on which we are all agreed -- a ban on reproductive cloning," Thomson said.

He said Britain would not sign, draft or participate in negotiations on a treaty that aimed to apply a global ban on therapeutic cloning.

The original motion to postpone the negotiations in the assembly's legal committee was introduced by Iran on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference.

Islamic countries say they want more time to consider the issue. They have been more receptive to the practice of human cloning for medical purposes, as their religion does not believe life begins at conception.

Richard Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte said, "We were pleased with the consensus because it gives the Islamic countries sufficient time to study the issue further and yet bring the issue back to the United Nations as quickly as possible."

"The U.S. position is unchanged. We have advocated for a total ban from the beginning and all our votes at the United Nations have been reflective of our position," he said.

Anti-abortion movements in the United States are lobbying strongly for the total ban while many scientists want the right to pursue therapeutic cloning.

The U.S. Congress is also divided over stem cell research and so far has failed to adopt legislation regulating it.