WASHINGTON — President Trump continued his outreach to rogue leaders on Monday, declaring he would meet North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un, provided the circumstances were right, even as the Philippine president, Rodrigo Duterte, brushed aside the president’s invitation to visit the White House, saying he might be “too busy.”
Mr. Trump’s unorthodox overtures — to a nuclear-armed despot who brutally purged his rivals, and an insurgent politician accused of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects — illustrated the president’s confidence in his ability to make deals and his willingness to talk to virtually anyone.
No American president has met with a North Korean leader since Mr. Kim’s grandfather Kim Il-sung established a Stalinist state there after the Korean War. However vague and impromptu, Mr. Trump’s offer shook up an unsettled situation on the Korean Peninsula, which has been alarmed by the prospect of a military clash between the United States and the North.
“Kim Jong-un would be delighted to meet with President Trump on the basis of one nuclear leader to another,” said Christopher R. Hill, a career diplomat who was special envoy on North Korea under George W. Bush. “If I were Trump I would pass on that.
Mr. Duterte’s backhanded response to Mr. Trump, however, also showed the pitfalls of his personal brand of diplomacy. The president had already gotten fierce criticism from human rights groups for embracing a man viewed by many as being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people involved in the drug trade. Now he faces being snubbed by Mr. Duterte as well.
“The most serious risk with this series of uncoordinated and controversial statements is that they undermine the most important currency of U.S. power: the credibility of the president’s words,” said Evan S. Medeiros, who served as a senior Asia adviser to President Barack Obama.
Mr. Trump first broached the idea of sitting down with Mr. Kim during the 2016 presidential campaign. He revived it in an interview Monday with Bloomberg News, saying, “If it would be appropriate for me to meet with him, I would absolutely; I would be honored to do it.”
The White House clarified that Mr. Trump would only consider a meeting if the North Korean leader met a series of conditions, starting with a sharp curtailment of his provocative behavior. North Korea carried out its most recent ballistic missile test, which failed, only last week.
“We want to hold out the possibility that if North Korea were ever serious about completely dismantling its nuclear capability and taking away the threat that they pose both to the region and to us,” the press secretary, Sean Spicer, said, “there is always going to be a possibility of that occurring.” But he added, “That possibility is not there at this time.”
For now, the Trump administration is pursuing a more traditional strategy of tightening economic pressure on the North — mainly through its neighbor, China — and backing that up with threat of military action. Mr. Trump said last week that while he wanted to solve the crisis with North Korea through diplomacy, a “major, major conflict” was possible.
Some experts said Mr. Trump’s openness to diplomacy reflected the influence of China, which has long urged the United States to speak directly to North Korea. Since Mr. Trump met last month in Florida with President Xi Jinping of China, he has praised Mr. Xi for what he insisted was China’s willingness to use its leverage over the North to curb its behavior.
“The Chinese have told Trump, ‘You’ve got to talk to these people,’ ” said Joel S. Wit, an expert on North Korea at Johns Hopkins University, who was involved in diplomacy during the Clinton administration that led to a nuclear agreement with North Korea in 1994.
“They’re trying to create the right circumstances for talks,” Mr. Wit said, “ramping up the pressure on the Chinese, ramping up the pressure on the North Koreans, and then opening up an escape route.”
But the timing of Mr. Trump’s overture, analysts and diplomats said, was hopelessly premature. In these types of negotiations, American presidents typically function as closers — taking over the process, after all the spadework has been done, to bridge the last gaps. So far, Mr. Kim has displayed no interest in even beginning such a negotiation.
Mr. Hill said achieving a verifiable agreement on denuclearization could be helped by the kind of summit that Mr. Trump proposed.
Mr. Trump has spoken generously of Mr. Kim in recent days, noting that he survived the treacherous political circles in Pyongyang after he first assumed power as a young man. Mr. Trump suggested that Mr. Kim repelled an effort by an uncle to take power back from him. In 2013, Mr. Kim purged his powerful uncle, Jang Song-taek, who was later executed.
Human rights groups also suspect Mr. Kim was behind the assassination of his exiled half brother, Kim Jong-nam, who was accosted in an airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by two assailants wielding a liquid containing the nerve agent VX.
Beyond the palace intrigue, the Kim family has presided over one of the world’s most repressive regimes, leaving the country in tatters and its people in misery.
Asked to explain why Mr. Trump would consider it an honor to meet such a leader, Mr. Spicer said, “I guess because he’s still a head of state.” He noted that there were “a lot of potential threats that could have come his way, and he’s obviously managed to lead a country forward.” Mr. Spicer added, “He is a young person to be leading a country with nuclear weapons.”
For his part, Mr. Duterte appeared unimpressed by Mr. Trump’s invitation to the White House, which the president made during a phone call on Saturday, to the surprise of his own staff. The Philippine leader said he and Mr. Trump had an amicable conversation, but he was noncommittal about visiting Washington, saying he had a busy schedule.
“I cannot make any definite promise,” Mr. Duterte said to reporters after touring Chinese warships in Davao City, his hometown. “I’m supposed to go to Russia, I’m also supposed to go to Israel.”
If Mr. Duterte rejected Mr. Trump’s invitation, he would spare him further criticism for playing host to a leader with a toxic reputation. On Sunday, senior officials said they expected the State Department and the National Security Council to resist a White House visit. But on Monday, an official said the White House did not pass word to Mr. Duterte to demur.
Mr. Spicer defended the invitation, saying the Philippines were important to isolating North Korea diplomatically and economically. Mr. Trump, he said, had been briefed about Mr. Duterte’s record before he made the call.
Josh Kurlantzick, a senior fellow with the Council on Foreign Relations, said he expected Mr. Duterte would still come to the United States, but might not want to seem too eager to do so. The Philippine leader has made a show of his independence from the United States, a treaty ally.
“Even though he welcomes a better relationship with this U.S. president, he wants to be cautious that he does not appear to be embracing the U.S. too much,” Mr. Kurlantzick said, “given that he has devoted a fair amount of diplomatic resources to courting China.”