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Russia: All Nuclear Notifications With U.S. Are Suspended; Narcan Becomes First Over-The-Counter Opioid Overdose Antidote; Vatican: Pope Francis In Hospital With Respiratory Infection. Aired 2:30-3:00p ET

Aired March 29, 2023 - 14:30   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN HOST: Russian state media is reporting that Moscow is suspending all nuclear notifications with United States and that includes alerts on test missile launches, and everything that falls under the 1988 nuclear New START Treaty. That's the only bilateral agreement left between the world's two largest nuclear powers.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: Senior U.S. officials previously told CNN that Russia and the U.S. are not providing any nuclear data to each other.

CNN national security reporter, Natasha Bertrand, is joining us with more on this. So, Natasha, another example of a continued breakdown in the post-cold war order here. Any reaction from the Pentagon on this latest announcement?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Well, Bianna, the Pentagon has not issued an official statement about this comment from Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister announcing essentially that Russia is going to halt its participation, its notification to the U.S. under its New START Treaty obligations.

Of course, that treaty was really the only remaining treaty between two nuclear superpowers regarding nuclear force posture and the level of nuclear warheads and missiles that each country actually has. This was really a check on each country's kind of nuclear force posture there.

But the U.S. wall, you know, anticipating this, they're still saying that they're condemning it. They anticipated it because just last month, Russia pulled out of this treaty, they said that they were going to suspend their participation in it. And so the U.S. had been anticipating perhaps that the Russians would also suspend the notification part of this treaty as well.

But, you know, it is not coming as a major surprise to the U.S. And in fact, it was a senior Pentagon official, during a hearing just yesterday, who disclosed that during a regular kind of communication with the Russians about their treaty obligations, kind of trying to get them to disclose how many nuclear warheads they have, as part of this treaty, which happens roughly twice a year.

The Russians then responded that they were actually not going to provide that information anymore. And this was disclosed yesterday by that Pentagon official who later said, well, if the Russians are not going to provide this information to us, then we are not going to give it to the Russians, either. Here's what he said.


JOHN PLUMB, ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY FOR SPACE POLICY: We are going to continue to examine what are the diplomatic countermeasures are appropriate. And what we're trying to do, sir, is balance, both responding to Russia's irresponsible behavior, but to continue to demonstrate what we believe a responsible nuclear powers action should be.


BERTRAND: Now a senior State Department official did say moments ago that they have not received an official notice from the Russians, saying that they are suspending the notifications as part of the New START Treaty.

But look, another big question here is whether as part of the suspension of notifications, the Russians are also not going to tell the U.S. when they do tests of missile launchers, for example. And just last month, Russia carried out an intercontinental ballistic missile test that they did notify the U.S. of as part of that New START Treaty. Unclear now, whether those kinds of notifications are going to continue either.

SANCHEZ: And a mix-up of that scale could prove disastrous.

Natasha Bertrand reporting from the Pentagon. Thank you so much.

Let's bring in Daryl Kimball. He's a nuclear expert and Executive Director for the Arms Control Association. Sir, thanks so much for sharing part of your afternoon with us.

Just walk us through the implications of this decision because obviously, a mix-up over a nuclear test could be disastrous, as I said a moment ago, but there are far worse things that could happen here. No?

DARYL KIMBALL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ARMS CONTROL ASSOCIATION: Well, this is yet another very troubling development in the deterioration of U.S.-Russian Nuclear Risk Reduction dialogue. As Natasha said, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty of 2010 requires that each side provide information on missile test launches. And you want to do that because you don't want the other side to believe that a test missile launch is a -- an actual launch of a missile in a hostile action.

The treaty also requires exchange -- a detailed exchange of data on the number of warheads, bombers that carry the warheads and missiles so that each side can then inspect at their facilities -- each other's facilities whether those declarations are accurate. So we're not going to be getting that from the Russians.


The Biden ministration is calibrating the response. It's important that we continue, as they've said, they're going to do to provide our missile test notifications. We're going to be withholding because the Russians are the data that is -- describes how many warheads or which bases, et cetera.

But this is just another sign that this treaty is in trouble. It is due to expire in less than three years in February 2026. And I think the bigger issue is whether the U.S. and Russia will be able to agree to stay below the limit set by this treaty, 1,550 deployed warheads on long range bombers and missiles.

The Russians, thankfully, have said that they're going to stay within those limits -- within those limits, but that's not a sure thing, given the war. And the fact that treaty is going to expire one way or another.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it was seen as a positive sign and victory when President Biden and President Putin were able to extend the treaty for another five years. But obviously, a lot has changed since then.

And what's also notable is Putin's decision to suspend the participation and not withdrawal completely. And that's leading many to believe that he's using this as leverage and perhaps blackmail in an attempt to lift sanctions that have been imposed on Russia since the start of the war.

How dangerous of a precedent would that set, if in fact, and I don't believe the U.S. would do so, but if in fact, the sanctions were lifted because of these types of threats?

KIMBALL: Well, it's unclear why Putin has decided to do this. I mean, if he thinks this is going to provide leverage in easing the United States support for Ukraine's defense, or the sanctions on Russia, because of its war of aggression, that's clearly not going to happen.

There are many inside the Russian defense establishment who disagree with this decision. It's unclear what his game plan is. But I think it is very interesting that Russia has -- Putin has said that they're not going to exceed the limits set by this treaty, at least for now, that suggests to me and many others that Russia does want to maintain limits on these most deadly Arsenal's.

We don't want a nuclear arms race. The Russians don't want a nuclear arms race. But if these limits are lifted, or the treaty expires without a replacement, we will, for the first time, in 50 years, not have any constraints on the U.S. and the Russian arsenals, the world's two largest, and that could open the door for an increase of the arsenals and arms race that could not just involve U.S. and Russia, but possibly China, which is also starting to build up its currently smaller, but it could be much bigger arsenal in the years ahead.

SANCHEZ: And, Daryl, you actually predicted my next question, doesn't that embolden other players around the world to boost up their arsenals or to, in the case of Iran, create a nuclear weapon, and then you wind up with a chain reaction where perhaps Saudi Arabia pursues a nuclear weapon as well?

KIMBALL: Well, I think the countries that are most concerned about the dynamics between the United States and Russia, and whether they fulfill their responsibilities to constrain their deadly arsenals. It's China and our own European allies.

The Chinese actually have come out and said that they would like the United States, they urge the United States and Russia to work together, to implement New START and to continue efforts to constrain their arsenals.

It's not in China's interest for Russia and the United States to increase their stockpiles. Remember, China has about 400 nuclear weapons today, the United States and Russia each have about 4,000. So China does not want to see that scenario.

Our allies in Europe also do not want to see Russia building up its arsenal for whatever reason. They already have enough security concerns with the war in Ukraine, with Russia's aggressive behavior. So it's very much in the interest of the United States, our allies to continue to press Putin to reengage with the diplomatic table, or at the very least, to continue to pledge to constrain the Russian arsenal, keep below these limits until such time as we can negotiate with a partner, Russia, that's not possible right now.

GOLODRYGA: Yes. And Putin continues to be reckless in his rhetoric about his nuclear arsenal just a few days ago announcing that he would transfer some tactical nuclear weapons to Belarus in the coming months.


Daryl Kimball, thank you so much for your perspective and expertise we appreciate it.

KIMBALL: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: As drug overdoses hover near record levels, the FDA is taking a major steps to make the over-the-counter version of the opioid antidote, Narcan, even more accessible. So how much of a game changer could this be? We'll discuss, next.


GOLODRYGA: Well, right now in America, someone dies from an opioid overdose nearly every eight minutes, making the drug the leading cause of accidental death in the country.

But now, the FDA is taking a bold new step and an attempt to reverse this trend. The agency approved the first over-the-counter version of the opioid antidote, Narcan, to be sold on store shelves. It works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain and restore breathing.


SANCHEZ: We're now joined by CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen. Dr. Wen, thanks so much for being with us. Nearly every state in the country already has the standing orders that allow pharmacists to dispense Narcan without a prescription. So why is this decision such a milestone?

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's a big step. It's something that I and other advocates have been calling for, for many years, mainly because it helps to normalize naloxone use. Naloxone, as Bianna mentioned, is something that is a complete antidote to opioids.

If somebody is overdosing from, let's say, fentanyl, which is a very potent opioid, they could be dead within minutes, because they'll stop breathing, they'll be unresponsive. But if naloxone is given, it'll save their life, they could be walking and talking within just a couple of minutes. And so this really needs to be made widely available.

Removing the prescription requirements is one major barrier. That's -- that has stood in the way, but another is still in the way, which is that of cost. We still don't know how this over-the-counter prescription -- or how this over-the-counter as opposed to prescription is going to be prized? And if it's too expensive, and people cannot pay for it that it's not going to do much good either.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, talk about that, because I wanted to braise that with you. Given that there are reports that that if in fact it is too costly, that it can be prohibitive for the people specifically who need it the most.

Now, some optimistic news is, I believe, some insurance carriers will be covering Narcan. But how important is it to get this at a price that's affordable for those that need it the most?

WEN: Well, right now, the nasal Narcan version can be very expensive, it can cost as much as $75 per dose. And usually it's given at a two dose pack. So $150. Most people are not going to be paying that amount to buy a just-in-case treatment that they might use to save somebody else's life.

Right now, insurance companies already cover Narcan if it's purchased through the standing order prescription. The problem though is when a medication is made over the counter, and a lot of insurance companies may not cover the over-the-counter version.

So we're awaiting word from the company about how they're going to price it, and that we really need private insurance companies as well as Medicaid and Medicare to cover this as much as possible.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Wen, let's shift gears and talk about your op-ed in the Washington Post about COVID vaccines. You think the United States should follow the lead of the United Kingdom and Canada and allow boosters for people who are at high risk of severe infection because of their age or their immune systems. WEN: Right. This is the most question that I'm getting from people and primarily those who are older with chronic medical conditions, who were immunocompromised, who got the initial buy bivalent booster when it first became available in September. So it's now been or six months or more since that booster.

We know that immunity does wane, especially against symptomatic infection. It also begins to wane for severe illness. Now for somebody who is generally healthy and young, who has had COVID, not a big deal, and they can probably wait to get their booster after a year. They could wait a year between getting boosters or even longer.

But somebody who's older with chronic medical conditions, I think it's reasonable to say these bivalent boosters are going to waste anyway. Why don't we let them -- let people who want to get that booster to get it six months after their initial shot? I think that's something that the FDA and CDC should really take up quite urgently. And again, I really don't see any downside to letting people who want to get that booster to access it sooner.

SANCHEZ: Dr. Leana Wen, always appreciate your expertise. Thanks so much.

WEN: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Of course. Stay with CNN. We'll be right back.



SANCHEZ: We're following breaking news right now out of the Vatican. We've just learned that Pope Francis has a respiratory infection, and will have to spend several days in the hospital.

GOLODRYGA: CNN's Delia Gallagher joins us now from Rome. So, Delia, what exactly are we learning about this doctor's visit? I know he'd been previously reported that he had a scheduled doctor's appointment, but this appears to be a bit more serious.


So earlier this afternoon, the Vatican told us quite by surprise that the Pope was at the hospital for what they call a previously scheduled test. And now just about a half hour ago, they have said he will be staying in hospital for a few days because of a respiratory infection. They exclude COVID-19.

The things he does not have that but he has been complaining in recent days about a contest of some respiratory difficulties. So he will say in hospital if it requires a few days of medical therapy in the hospital. They're not saying exact timeframe obviously.

We saw him this morning at the weekly audience in St. Peter's Square. He was speaking fine, breathing fine and looks just fine. But obviously, he's been having some difficulties in the past few days, as the Vatican says and so he'll be spending certainly tonight. He's there now and will monitor for the next few days.

You know, the pope had part of his lung removed when he was younger. He had a respiratory infection. This is something that he's carried with him throughout his life. So occasionally, it's caused him to whisper, lose his voice things like that, but we haven't seen an in- hospital for a respiratory infection. We did see him in the hospital for good 10 days back in 2021, when he had part of his intestine removed, he had diverticulitis, and he spent 10 days in the hospital.


And he complained about it afterwards, because he said he had a bad reaction to the anesthesia. They had to remove about 13 inches of his intestine and colon. And he said he didn't want to go back in and do any further surgeries. Because of course, you know, he has a knee problem. He has a mobility issue.

And one of the questions for him in the past two years has been why don't you have a knee surgery so they don't want to do the anesthesia again. But this seems to be of a different nature. The Vatican is talking about respiratory issues and a respiratory infection is their diagnosis from the Gemelli Hospital in Rome as a half an hour ago.

Boris, Bianna?

SANCHEZ: Delia Gallagher, thank you so much for bringing us that update.

Let's go straight to CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen. We were just having a conversation about a different topics. We're glad that you were able to stick around with us. Obviously, the Pope has some special considerations with his health. Delia mentioned that he'd had part of a lung removed. He's 86 years old. Talk to us about what goes into treatment for someone like that.

WEN: Well, it really depends on what is the condition that the Pope has. And so I'm certain that when he went to go to his physician in the hospital, they would have monitor his status. So they would have looked at his cardio respiratory status, what are his vital signs, what is his oxygen saturation at room air? Does he need oxygen? And then they would have done X-rays and perhaps CT scans or other tests to find out what exactly is this condition? Does he have a bacterial pneumonia? Does he have a virus?

And in this case, we don't know. We would wait for the Vatican to tell us more. But I think it's really important to mention that people who are older, and the Pope is 86 years old, that they are at high risk for complications from any of these respiratory illnesses. So something that's pretty minor and mild for a younger person could send someone who's older with chronic medical conditions into the hospital.

And so I know that they'll be monitoring much more closely and also trying to prevent other complications that could occur. When somebody has a respiratory infection, they could get a superimposed infection, they could get a second infection, or there could be complications based on their existing medical illnesses.

So all of those things are what we have to monitor in the days to come.

GOLODRYGA: Especially given his past history with respiratory infections and that surgery that he had years ago removing part of his lung. Of course, we will continue to follow this story.

Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much. And we will keep you posted on the Pope's health as we learn more details. Stay with CNN.