Board Urges Funding Of Embryo Research

The National Bioethics Advisory Commission (NBAC) yesterday recommended that federal funds be allowed to support scientists who want to harvest from human embryos a type of cell that can give rise to any kind of tissue in the body.

The research on so-called stem cells shows too much promise for treating a range of diseases--from juvenile diabetes to heart disease--to hold it up, concluded the NBAC, which advises President Clinton. Therefore, a ban on using federal funds for such research using live human embryos should be lifted, the commission concluded.

The report calls for federally funded scientists to have access to embryos donated after attempts to make test-tube babies. Current federal law forbids the use of federal funds for any research that involves the destruction of a human embryo--even if the embryo was slated for disposal.

Clinton, who has said he would not press for changes in federal laws regarding embryo research, thanked the committee for the report but did not say whether he would act on its recommendations.

Sharpshooters Down Caribbean Drug Boats

Coast Guard sharpshooters fired from helicopters to knock out the engines of cocaine-laden boats in the Caribbean, employing a tactic not used since the Prohibition era, officials disclosed.

The previously secret assaults have been employed in recent weeks, using an array of nonlethal force to stop smugglers in open-hull, low-profile boats called "Super Smugglers" or "Go-Fasts," which carry barrels of fuel and about a ton of cocaine each.

The sea encounters have led to the capture of 13 crew members from four boats and have netted more than three tons of cocaine destined for the U.S. market, said Barry McCaffrey, White House drug control director. He said those and other operations in the past year have brought cocaine confiscation to a record 53 tons, with a street value of $3.7 billion.

State Dept. Confirms U.S.-Iran Dialogue

The State Department confirmed that the Clinton administration recently had a high-level communication with the government of Iran but declined to say what it was about.

The Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Watan reported over the weekend that President Clinton had written Iranian President Mohammed Khatemi requesting that Iran extradite two people suspected of involvement in the 1996 truck bombing of the Khobar Towers housing complex in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, which killed 19 U.S. servicemen.

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin declined to comment on the accuracy of the Al-Watan report. "I can confirm that we've had such a communication, but I am not in a position to detail the way in which it was made and the substance of it," he said.

The newspaper said former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani had urged Khatemi to respond by demanding the extradition of the captain of the USS Vincennes, the warship that accidentally shot down an Iranian airliner in 1988, killing 290 people.

Some Iran watchers speculated yesterday that the communication could be related to the Aug. 28 departure from Iran of 13 U.S. scholars who were urged to drop their research and return home immediately.

House Agrees to Pay Atomic Site Residents

The House agreed to a one-time payment of some $3.8 million to former residents of the Pacific Ocean atoll of Bikini, which was used as an atomic bomb testing site after World War II.

The bill, approved by voice vote, was in recognition of the hardships suffered by the Bikini people, who were moved from their home in 1946 and still cannot return because of high radiation levels. The measure requires Senate action.

Relocations first to the island of Rongerik and later to Kili, 400 miles south of Bikini, were "the worst calamity imaginable for the Bikinian people," said Robert Underwood, Guam's delegate to Congress.

The funds would come from a Bikini resettlement trust fund established in 1982. Over the years, Congress has appropriated $110 million for the fund, which, through investments, has grown in value to about $126 million.