If Mr. Trump demands that the North dismantle its nuclear arsenal completely and quickly, “it will test how desperate and how sincere Kim Jong-un is for a deal,” said Moon Seong-mook, a senior analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy in Seoul, South Korea.
In recent weeks, Mr. Kim has not been behaving like a desperate leader. Whereas he spent the first six years of his reign as a recluse, never venturing outside the country, he has been to China twice in 40 days to meet with President Xi Jinping, and last month traveled to the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjom to meet with President Moon Jae-in.
China, the North’s longstanding patron, had at first seemed sidelined from the talks, but now could potentially play a significant role in whatever deal emerges.
When Mr. Kim and Mr. Moon met — the first time a North Korean leader had entered the South — they delivered a statement committing to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, though they gave few details about what that meant.
Indeed, while the term has been bandied about regularly in a frenzy of diplomacy in recent weeks, denuclearization is a fungible concept.
During a meeting in Tokyo of the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea on Wednesday, all three mentioned “denuclearization” during remarks to reporters. Yet it is clear they have different ideas about how it would be achieved.
On Tuesday, for example, when Mr. Kim flew to Dalian, China, to meet with Mr. Xi, the two leaders outlined a far more drawn-out process for denuclearization than is favored by either the United States or its ally Japan.