UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ A key U.N. committee backed a resolution Monday calling for a global treaty to ban human cloning.

The initiative by France and Germany for an international pact to outlaw the procedure, which they say is unacceptable and incompatible with human dignity, won endorsement from the General Assembly's legal committee.

Under the draft resolution, a group would meet twice next year to define what should be negotiated in an international convention to ban the practice.

Approval by the 189 nations in the General Assembly is virtually certainty.

The draft resolution says ``the rapid development of life sciences opens up tremendous prospects for the improvement of human health''

But it would put the General Assembly on record as saying it is ``determined to prevent an attack on the dignity of the individual.''

``It's an excellent first step,'' said France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-David Levitte.

Christian Much, legal adviser to the Germany's U.N. Mission, welcomed the endorsement, but said a final treaty might still be three years away.

``On an ethical level, Christianity and Islam and all religions think that cloning would be an intrusion in God's power to create a life,'' he said.

``From a scientific point of view, cloning means asexual reproduction _ the opposite of sexual reproduction _ which means this would be the end of evolution of mankind,'' Much said.

Cloning involves the nucleus of an egg being mechanically replaced by the nucleus from a different cell. The reconstructed egg is then charged with electricity or submerged in chemicals to stimulate cell division and growth into an embryo. The resultant human life is genetically identical to the person from whom the cell was extracted.