Instead, the US could frame its policy around trying to contain North Korea by proposing an arms control agreement rather than demanding denuclearization.
“It costs the US nothing to make a sincere offer and leave it on the table to see if pressure on North Korea could lead to negotiations and expand from there — from a modest beginning to more serious restrictions,” Mount said.
While there is certainly no guarantee that direct negotiations would prove to be effective, experts indicate that there is a desire to come to the table on the part of the North Korean regime.
“The North Koreans have been wanting direct talks with the US for over a year but don’t want to commit in advance to denuclearization or to take steps unilaterally before talks begin,” said Leon Sigal, Director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council.
According to Sigal, North Korea’s desire to change its relationship with the US dates back more than 30 years, and their hopes of altering US policy they see as adversarial could provide leverage in attempts to bring Pyongyang to the table.
But the years of mistrust continue to foster scepticism as neither side has shown a willingness to concede ground.
Engaging in direct talks with North Korea could anger several key allies in the region — particularly if the US makes concessions in its military posturing.
Any idea that Washington might give ground on the US’ ability to strike hard against North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs would raise alarms in Tokyo, said Corey Wallace, a Japan security analyst at Freie University in Berlin.
“If there is any sense that the US might weaken its military position and ability to deliver this response as part of some deal, this will be seen with great concern in Japan,” Wallace said.
Japan is home to several large US military bases. And without the ability to undertake offensive military operations on its own, Japan would need the US to retaliate against any North Korean aggression against it.
Tokyo is in no mood to make any concessions to Pyongyang, Wallace said.
“There is no longer a constituency in Japan advocating an engagement approach with DPRK like in South Korea. I don’t think anyone will be second guessing a tough approach,” he said.
However, new South Korean President Moon Jae-in has expressed a desire to initiate talks with his neighbour to the north in hopes of bringing about denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula through dialogue and cooperation. But efforts to create a dialogue have been unsuccessful to date.
Moon, who was inaugurated in May, campaigned on a platform of engagement, in stark contrast to his hawkish predecessor, though pre-election opinion polls showed security was not the top issue for the electorate.
A Trump and Kim face-to-face meeting?
No sitting US president has ever met with the leader of North Korea while in power, but in May, Trump said he would be willing to meet with Kim “under the right circumstances” to defuse tensions over North Korea’s nuclear program.
“If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely, I would be honoured to do it,” Trump told Bloomberg News in an interview at the time. “If it’s under the, again, under the right circumstances. But I would do that.”
Trump’s comments were later downplayed by then-press secretary Sean Spicer who said the conditions for a meeting “do not exist now” and that they may “never be there.”
Ri Jong Ho, a North Korean defector who formerly worked for the government, says he believes a Trump-Kim meeting is a possibility.
“Even though they don’t say so publicly, I believe they are anxious, they are afraid, and under tremendous international pressure,” Ho said, referring to the North Koreans. “So even if they can’t say so publicly they may want to have these talks. So I believe there is quite a possibility that the two of them could meet and talk.”
The White House did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on whether Trump would still be willing to meet with the North Korean dictator, but his comments date back to the campaign.
During a 2016 rally in Atlanta, Trump told the crowd he believed the criticism he’s received on his willingness to talk to foreign leaders was unfair.
“I said absolutely, why not? Why not? And they came out: ‘Trump would speak to him.’ Who the hell cares? I’ll speak to anybody. Who knows? There’s a 10% or 20% chance that I can talk him out of those damn nukes ’cause who the hell wants him to have nukes, and there’s a chance! I’m only going to make a good deal for us but there’s a chance!” Trump said.
But the idea of Trump directly engaging Kim would break dramatically with the policies of several past administrations.
“North Korea unsuccessfully asked to meet with Bill Clinton repeatedly, also with George W. Bush and also with Obama,” Sigal said, adding that North Korea would regard a meeting with Trump as “legitimating their standing in the world.”
“I wouldn’t want to give it away cheaply,” he added, noting that the prospect of a meeting with Trump could potentially be used down the line in an effort to negotiate the forfeiture of key North Korean programs.
Adam Mount echoed Sigal’s assessment that a face-to-face meeting should be reserved until progress was made on other issues.
“Trump has said he’s willing to consider a meeting — hold that out as a possibility contingent on other concessions like arms control measures,” he said.