The U.S. drive to enact a broad global ban on human cloning has suffered a severe setback at the United Nations. The cloning issue has deeply divided the world body.

By a 80-79 vote, the General Assembly's legal committee passed a motion to delay consideration of a treaty banning human cloning until 2005. The motion was sponsored by Iran on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Conference.

The vote effectively derails a U.S.-led campaign to draft a treaty that would prohibit all forms of human cloning, including medical research on stem cells.

It also reveals a deep split within the world body on the cloning issue.

The U.S. and Costa Rican proposal calling for drafting an anti-cloning treaty had nearly 50 co-sponsors, and was expected to pass easily. But it is fiercely opposed by many in the scientific community, who argue there is a need for therapeutic cloning for research and medical purposes.

A rival resolution sponsored by Belgium and supported by Britain, France, and Germany, among others, would have banned only the cloning of babies.

After the vote, Deputy U.S. Representative James Cunningham said he was disappointed that countries opposing a total ban had used a technicality to derail the will of a majority of the international community.

"It is particularly regrettable that it was by only one vote that we will be prevented from formally registering that more than 100 members of the Untied Nations favor the pursuit of the goal, of a total ban on human cloning," he said.

The vote effectively puts off for two years any work on drafting an international treaty banning human cloning.

Several European diplomats regretted that the vote leaves the issue of cloning in limbo. But as one Belgian diplomat told reporters afterward, it may be better not to push forward on drafting a comprehensive treaty at a time when the world, and even the scientific community, is so deeply divided on the question.