Beyond the potential that Kim is feeling confident, there are several other reasons the North could be making such an offer. It could be that Kim is genuinely keen on dialogue with the United States. U.S. and UN sanctions on the North may have hurt the country economically to the point that Kim feels compelled to negotiate—a similar dynamic that helped bring Iran to nuclear negotiations under Obama. The sanctions might also have hurt the regime’s ability to conduct more missile and nuclear tests, something they did regularly in 2017.
There’s also the possibility that the North, if it is making the offer of talks, is using it to divide the U.S. alliance with South Korea or play for time. Moon Jae In, the South Korean president, was elected on a promise of closer relations with the North—and if Moon sees real potential for that, he could dispute the U.S. insistence on leaving the military option open. (Hammond said the North couldn’t pull this off so easily: “South Korea’s connection with the U.S. is far stronger than anything they can have with North Korea. Our relationship has been developed over decades.”) Or North Korea could use the duration of any talks to continue covert work on its nuclear program, as it did during talks with the Clinton administration in the 1990s.