Iranian doctors have overseen the country's first animal cloning — a lamb that died minutes after birth — and plan future experiments in genetics and stem cell research, a member of the team said Wednesday.

Iran's program is part of the Islamic regime's ambitions to become a regional center for medical, aerospace and nuclear technology — which has led to an international showdown over Western claims that Tehran also seeks atomic weapons.

"We learned a lot about cloning during the experiment. It made us more hopeful about further cases," said Dr. Morteza Hosseini, a member of cloning team at the Isfahan Royan Institute in central Iran.

Hosseini said the cloned sheep died five minutes after birth Aug. 2 due to respiratory problems. The female sheep implanted with the cloned embryo gave birth a week ahead of schedule and was healthy, he said.

Hosseini said Iranian researchers in Tehran and Isfahan expect to carry out more cloning experiments over the coming months.

The program has won backing from Iran's Shiite Muslim religious leaders, who have issued religious decrees authorizing animal cloning but banning any such experiments with humans.

A majority of Iran's nearly 70 million people are Shiites, who comprise about 15 percent of the world's 1.2 billion Muslims.

Many Sunni Muslim clerics, however, have spoken against cloning in any form.

British scientists made world headlines a decade ago with the cloned sheep Dolly. Since then, rapid progress in stem cell research and genetics have raised widespread debates about ethics and the boundaries of medicine.

Scientists say cloning sheep and other animals could lead to advances in medical research, including using cloned animals to produce human antibodies against diseases.