- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 9, 2003

NEW YORK — The U.N. General Assembly agreed yesterday to resume discussion of a treaty to ban human cloning late next year — effectively scheduling the divisive issue during the finale of the U.S. presidential election campaigns.

The assembly agreed by consensus to halve the length of a proposed two-year deferral of discussion of the issue, which would have given governments more time to formulate their ideas on the ethical, legal and scientific implications of a ban.

Under normal U.N. procedures, the issue now can be expected to come up between early October and mid-November, with delegates ideally reaching a vote before the Christmas recess.

This could place the Bush administration in the middle of a divisive argument pitting the scientific community and illness-advocacy groups against pro-life groups and religious conservatives at the peak of the presidential campaign.

While all sides support a ban on cloning to create human beings, many scientists argue for an exception to permit the cloning of human cells for medical research, while religious and pro-life groups favor a ban on all human-related cloning.

U.S. officials yesterday claimed a victory in shortening the debate by one year.

“The U.S. position is for a total ban, because this is a human rights issue to us,” said Rick Grenell, spokesman for U.S. Ambassador John D. Negroponte. “Obviously we would like to act as quickly as possible.”

Nonetheless, U.S. officials acknowledged there was some awkwardness in scheduling the debate just before the 2004 election.

Washington is joined by Costa Rica, Italy the Philippines and as many 60 other nations — most of them with Roman Catholic majorities — in seeking a ban on all human cloning.

But a rival text — drafted by Belgium and supported by more than two dozen industrialized nations — allows the cloning of human cells for carefully monitored scientific research.

Adam Thompson, the British deputy ambassador, said after yesterday’s decision that Britain could never accept language that curtails scientific research.

The General Assembly’s legal committee in November agreed by a vote of 80-79 to recommend that the full assembly postpone the discussion for two years.

Emboldened by the close split in the world body, as well as the high number of abstentions, U.S. ally Costa Rica led the effort to shorten the postponement.

Without action from the General Assembly, nations are free to develop their own policies on cloning. There is concern that scientists or fringe groups could set up labs to attempt human reproductive cloning.

Mr. Thompson expressed his frustration with the delay.

“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: the ban on reproductive cloning,” he said. But Mr. Grenell refused to accept the criticism.

“The issue transcends politics,” he said. “It’s a human rights issue to us.”

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