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Australia clashes with Vatican over AIDS deal

A collision of religion, morality and international politics has thrown Australia into a diplomatic battle against the Vatican and several Islamic nations on issues that threaten to derail a crucial global pact on fighting AIDS.

The unlikely religious alliance has pledged to block a United Nations action plan on AIDS this week because the document, drafted by Australia, includes specific measures for homosexuals, prostitutes and drug-users.

The Holy See has teamed with countries such as Iran, Syria, Libya and Pakistan to argue that singling out these groups would "legitimise their status and offend moral standards".

Australian diplomats were involved in closed-door meetings in New York at the weekend in an attempt to salvage the pact.

The agreement was co-authored by Australia's ambassador to the UN, Penny Wensley, and will be debated at a special session of 189 nations this week. Federal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge will attend.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is urging all countries to support the document and to commit to its call for a global AIDS fund that would direct $A17.8 billion a year towards fighting the disease.

Monsignor Anthony Frontiero, an attache at the Vatican's permanent UN observer mission, told the Wall Street Journal: "We understand that those are truly groups of people who are susceptible to the disease.

"But they're not vulnerable for the same reasons as children are, or refugees are, or women are. There's a difference between vulnerability and susceptibility. You're vulnerable because of your condition and susceptible because of your behaviour."