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In-Depth Interview: State Department Veteran Peter van Buren Comments on Trump-Kim Summit and Russiagate

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Peter van Buren returns to discuss the plan for a summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.  Van Buren, who was assigned to Seoul for 4 years, shares his insights on North Korea and the Russiagate scandal.Van Buren served at the State Department for over 20 years, and was stationed in South Korea during the final years of the Clinton administration.  He’s the author of We Meant Well, Ghosts of Tom Joad, and Hooper’s war.  His blog is here, his commentary on N. Korea for Reuters is here, and his article on the role of surveillance in the Mueller probe is here.

We open with van Buren’s comments on the day-old news that Trump has agreed to meet with Kim: he thinks this is a major development, and urges us to moderate ours fears about Trump.  He agrees with your humble host that Kim has demonstrated remarkable skill in this exchange with the US and Trump, and explains why the representatives Kim sent to the Olympics indicate that he has consensus in his leadership for these initiatives.  Van Buren also notes that Kim disarmed the US preconditions by offering to suspend nuke and missile tests while the talks are underway–presenting these as “gifts” instead of “concessions”.

When PBC notes his discomfort that Trump has elevated Kim and North Korea to superpower level, Van Buren counters that joining the nuclear weapons club raised North Korea’s status whether we like it or not.

Van Buren lowers expectations for the first meeting, predicting that Trump will offer some cultural exchanges and other confidence-building steps but it will take time and staff work to achieve any significant breakthrough.

Then we shift to the Russia narrative, and van Buren details the pattern of using surveillance and parallel construction to entrap Trump appointees like Mike Flynn and George Papadapolous.  To date, the indictments and plea deals do not relate to the original frame of Russian hacking and delivery of the spoils to WikiLeaks, and there is little public evidence to support claims of Russian meddling promoted by Democrats and intel officials.  We discuss GOP attacks and Dem defense of the FISA court, and agree the court should be shut down.