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US readies for cloning battle

United Nations, Dec. 2 (Reuters): US President George W. Bush’s administration is considering a drive to overturn a recent UN vote and revive work on a global treaty that would ban medical research on stem cells, diplomats said yesterday.

In a setback for the White House and a victory for the scientific community, the UN General Assembly’s 191-nation legal committee voted only last month to sideline the treaty for two years. But the proposal to defer the drafting process until 2005 was approved by a margin of just 80 to 79 with 15 abstentions, and the issue is scheduled to resurface in the full General Assembly next Monday. The assembly’s membership is identical to that of its legal committee.

The treaty started out two years ago as a plan to prohibit the cloning of human beings. But the Bush administration — with the backing of the US anti-abortion movement and many predominantly Catholic countries — wanted it expanded to outlaw both human cloning and cloning human cells for scientific research purposes.

In anticipation of next week’s assembly meeting, the US and its allies plan to meet at the UN to devise a strategy for reversing the committee vote, diplomats said. US officials said they would have no comment on their plans until later this week. “We were disappointed by the committee vote and are now looking to see what the next step will be,” one US official said. “A ban on human cloning is of vital importance, and we continue to work a number of angles.”

A UN diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the group would try to gauge the strength of its support before deciding whether to seek a new vote. “For some governments, the issue has already been dealt with. But others are eager to plunge back in,” the envoy said.

Cloning research relies on embryo cells, or stem cells, because they can grow into all cells and tissues in the body.

Scientists see it as a promising avenue in the battle against many serious diseases while anti-abortion activists and many Catholics see it as the taking of human lives.

There is almost universal support at the UN for a treaty banning human cloning, but the international community is deeply divided over therapeutic cloning.

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