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The United Kingdom asked U.S. lawmakers for cooperation in adding the controversial W93 nuclear warhead to Britain’s arsenal -- a missile that disarmament critics call a $14 billion “excess.”

In an unprecedented letter to Congress, Britain’s defense secretary, Ben Wallace, urged lawmakers to approve spending on a joint agreement between the Pentagon and the U.

K.’s Ministry of Defense, The Guardian reported Saturday.

Pentagon officials have confirmed that the W93 would be the next-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), which security officials hope to have fully operational by 2040 -- a $14 billion program that Britain has reportedly committed to joining by replacing its own Trident warheads.

“These are challenging times, but it is crucial that we demonstrate transatlantic unity and solidarity in this difficult period,” Wallace wrote to members of the House and Senate Armed Services committees, according to The Guardian, which obtained a copy of the letter.

“Congressional funding in [2021] for the W93 program will ensure that we continue to deepen the unique nuclear relationship between our two countries, enabling the United Kingdom to provide safe and assured continuous-at-sea deterrence for decades to come.”

CHINESE SPOKESPERSON SAYS US SHOULD 'STOP PLAYING DUMB' ON NUCLEAR ARMS AGREEMENT

Lawmakers were reportedly surprised by the letter from the U.K. on the nuclear missile program.

“We’ve never had a letter of this sort before, so it was a little bit surprising that this is the issue that they chose to weigh in on,” a committee aide told the publication.

The House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee blocked the needed funding the Trump administration was requesting in order to start the development of the new warhead design, according to Defense News.

The committee cited concerns that the National Nuclear Security Administration failed to provide adequate details on “why starting Phase 1 Concept Assessment is needed in fiscal year 2021, the drivers for this decision, or how such a decision is likely to impact retirement of any of the Navy’s existing strategic systems.”

The delay could push back the timeline for implementing the missiles in the field, as well as cause delays for the U.K., which plans to purchase a version of the technology.

Critics of the weapon development argue it is another step in advancing the nuclear arms race, as opposed to limiting the race and eliminating nuclear warheads.

“This is excess on top of excess,” Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association Kingston Reif told The Guardian. “We already have two SLBM warheads. The W76 just went through a major life extension program and is slated to be good into the early 2040s, and the W88 is going through a major alteration.”

“The US can continue to assist the UK’s arsenal without rushing the development of an unnecessary, at least $14bn new-design, third SLBM warhead,” Reif added.

RUSSIA CALLS US’S NEWEST STANCE ON NUCLEAR ARMS AGREEMENT 'UNDIPLOMATIC,' CONSIDERS NOT EXTENDING

The Arms Control Association (ACA) reported that the funds requested by the Trump administration would equate to trillions of dollars.

“Over the next 30 years, the price tag is likely to top $1.5 trillion and could even approach $2 trillion,” the ACA reported in March.

“The costs and risks of the Trump administration’s nuclear weapons spending plans are compounded by its hostility to arms control,” the report noted.

President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019, a treaty that effectively ended the Cold War.

The 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the U.S. and Russia is set to expire in February 2021, unless both parties agree to extend the agreement. Russia has already committed to signing the treaty without stipulations, but the U.S. is now saying it will not agree to any terms unless China also signs a nuclear arms treaty -- a move that Russia has called “undiplomatic," saying they will not force China to sign any treaty.

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China has categorically refused to sign any nonproliferation treaty but has agreed to a no-first-use policy -- a nuclear deterrence strategy that means China won’t strike first.

The U.S. and Russia account for more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear arms, according to Defense News.

If the U.S. refuses to sign the treaty, it will be the first time since the Cold War that the U.S. and Russia have not operated under a nuclear arms agreement.

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Russia declares itself first to develop coronavirus vaccine

Russia on Tuesday declared itself the first country to approve a coronavirus vaccine with President Vladimir Putin saying one of his daughters had been inoculated.

Dubbing the vaccine “Sputnik V” after the Soviet-era satellite that was the first launched into space, Russian officials said it provided safe, stable immunity and denounced Western attempts to undermine Moscow’s research.

Scientists in the West have raised concerns about the speed of development of Russian vaccines, suggesting that researchers might be cutting corners and coming under pressure from authorities to deliver.

The World Health Organization said any WHO stamp of approval on a COVID-19 vaccine candidate would require a rigorous safety data review.

“We are in close contact with the Russian health authorities and discussions are ongoing with respect to possible WHO pre-qualification of the vaccine,” said the UN agency’s spokesman Tarik Jasarevic in Geneva.

Putin had told a televised video conference call with government ministers, “This morning, for the first time in the world, a vaccine against the new coronavirus was registered.

“I know that it is quite effective, that it gives sustainable immunity,” he said.

The president said one of his daughters had been inoculated with the vaccine, developed by the Gamaleya research institute in coordination with the Russian defence ministry and other government bodies.

“In this sense she took part in the experiment,” Putin said, adding that she had a slight temperature after a second injection and “that’s all”.

The chief of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, which is financing and helping to coordinate the vaccine efforts, told reporters that Phase 3 trials on a large group of people would start on Wednesday.

Kirill Dmitriyev, who heads the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), said industrial production was expected from September and that 20 countries had made “preliminary applications for over one billion doses” of the vaccine.

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He said that along with foreign partners Russia was ready to manufacture 500 million doses of vaccine per year in five countries.

Dmitriyev denounced “coordinated and carefully orchestrated media attacks” designed to “discredit” Russia’s vaccine.

“We should leave politics behind and enjoy this moment,” he said. “We are not forcing this vaccine on anyone.”

– ‘Little detail’ available –

The pandemic has seen an unprecedented mobilisation of funding and research to rush through a vaccine that can protect billions of people worldwide.

Russia has been pushing hard to quickly develop a coronavirus vaccine and said earlier this month it hoped to launch mass production within weeks and turn out “several million” doses per month by next year.

The WHO had last week urged Russia to follow established guidelines and go “through all the stages” necessary to develop a safe vaccine. 

Spokesman Christian Lindmeier told reporters at the time that the WHO had not been officially notified of any Russian vaccine on the verge of being deployed.

Experts said they were concerned that not enough was known about Russia’s research.

“There seems to be rather little detail thus far on Russian (vaccine) candidates,” said Danny Altmann, a professor of Immunology at Imperial College London. 

“The collateral damage from release of any vaccine that was less than safe and effective could exacerbate our current problems insurmountably.”

The vaccine developed by Russia is a so-called viral vector vaccine, meaning it employs another virus to carry the DNA encoding of the needed immune response into cells.

Gamaleya’s vaccine is based on the adenovirus, a similar technology to the coronavirus vaccine prototype developed by China’s CanSino.

The state-run Gamaleya institute came under fire after researchers and its director injected themselves with the prototype several months ago, with specialists criticising the move as an unorthodox and rushed way of starting human trials.

Moscow has dismissed allegations from Britain, the United States and Canada that a hacking group linked to Russian intelligence services tried to steal information about a coronavirus vaccine from labs in the West.

With more than 897,000 confirmed infections, Russia’s coronavirus caseload is currently fourth in the world after the United States, Brazil and India.

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