Vt. man knows what it's like to negotiate with North Korea

ST. ALBANS, Vt. (WCAX) President Donald Trump made history in Singapore on Tuesday. He became the first sitting U.S. president to meet with North Korea's dictator. After months of tough talk, the two met at a summit aimed at re-establishing relations between the two countries.

The president called the agreement they signed comprehensive and important.

"We're very proud of what took place today. I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has in the past. We both want to do something, we both are going to do something and we have developed a very special bond," Trump said.

Here is what President Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed to:
-Both countries will work toward building a new relationship and promoting peace in that region.
-North Korea will work toward denuclearization but the details of how that will be accomplished were not outlined in the agreement.
-North Korea will return the remains of service members lost during the Korean War.
-The president also offered to end U.S. military exercises with South Korea which he called war games. That was not part of the signed agreement, though.

A Vermonter is one of only a handful in the world who knows what it's like to negotiate with the North Koreans. WCAX News spoke with retired Rear Adm. Warren Hamm in St. Albans Tuesday. He was the lead negotiator with North Korea in the 1970s. He shared his thoughts on the historic summit and offered a warning going forward.

"My first job as an admiral was in Korea," Hamm said.

Hamm grew up in St. Albans and served in Korea during the 1970s, commanding U.S. and Korean Navy forces in that region. But his other role was overseeing the armistice between North and South Korea.

"I was a senior member of the armistice commission," he said.

Reporter Cat Viglienzoni: What was negotiating like with North Korea then?
Warren Hamm: Negotiations were tough. There was no tolerance for mistakes or anything. Mistakes-- people strayed over here or there-- they were killed. That was the name of the game and everyone understood that.

He described the meetings as formal in three different languages.

"There were absolutely no courtesies shown at all because it was strictly business. There were not supposed to be weapons in the meeting rooms, but the North Koreans were bringing in weapons, so I told my people we will bring in weapons," Hamm said.

Cat Viglienzoni: Based on your experiences during that time, what was your reaction when you heard that there was going to be a summit between the leader of the U.S. and the leader of North Korea?
Warren Hamm: Very surprised.

Hamm says North Korea has two key aims and that's what negotiators need to remember.

"The goal of North Korea is certainly not world domination. Their goal number one is to take over South Korea on their terms, pure and simple. Second goal is to get the U.S. out of South Korea," Hamm said.

Which is why the president's offer to end joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea alarms Hamm.

"If that is a fact, then yes, I am concerned because it's just another step in getting us out of there," he said. "I think that those exercises are critical to continue because that ensures our readiness. Now if we drop those exercises, that's just reducing our readiness and giving in for the North Koreans to slip in."

Cat Viglienzoni: Denuclearization in North Korea. Do you think that's likely?
Warren Hamm: That-- I'm very, very surprised. Because to me, the nuclear capability was a big stick that he had and if you drop that, then well, you've lost a big stick.

Hamm says he thinks a solution is possible but he's skeptical that North Korea will hold up its end of the bargain.

"We have to make sure they're sincere. And they're going to have to do things to show us that they are sincere," he said.

Hamm says, either way, he's very interested to see what happens in the future.

Warren Hamm: I'd sure like to be involved in it.
Cat Viglienzoni: Would you like to be a fly on the wall in those discussions?
Warren Hamm: Well, I'd like to be a talking fly.

You can hear more from Cat Viglienzoni's interview with Warren Hamm this Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on "You Can Quote Me," including other specifics of the summit and more about his experiences dealing with North Korea in the past.