The Council on Foreign Relations convened a task force of prominent experts to chart out how to deal with the hardline communist state, which has carried out two nuclear tests and is accused of torpedoing a South Korean warship.
President Barack Obama's administration has described its policy as "strategic patience" -- waiting for North Korea to return to past commitments without the United States offering new concessions.
The task force was skeptical and said the administration should show more urgency.
"Despite the strong words, the Obama administration's actions to date suggest that the objective of rollback of North Korea's nuclear program is halfhearted," the study said.
"The timeframe for achieving denuclearization is so vague that there is a significant risk that 'strategic patience' will result in acquiescence to North Korea's nuclear status as a fait accompli," it said.
The task force was chaired by Charles Pritchard, a former top US negotiator with North Korea who is known for supporting engagement, and John Telelli, a retired general who formerly headed US troops in South Korea.
Scott Snyder, head of the Center for US-Korea Policy at the Asia Foundation, directed the study. Twenty other US experts on Korea took part in the task force, although some wrote dissents from the report.
Among its key recommendations, the report urged the United States to find ways to engage ordinary North Koreans by encouraging exchanges and inviting students to study at US universities -- in fields other than nuclear science.
The task force said the US focus on sanctions against North Korea reinforced the country's isolation and "may ironically strengthen the regime's capacity to maintain political control."
By contrast, "expanding the exposure of individual North Koreans to the outside world may eventually result in internally driven regime transformation," it said.
The study acknowledged that it would be difficult to end North Korea's nuclear program, saying that no country that has conducted a nuclear test has reversed course without a change in political leadership.
But the task force said the United States should at least try as "the costs of inaction and acquiescence are so high."
The report said that the role of China would be crucial to determine whether "it is possible to achieve a strategy that goes beyond containment and management of North Korea's nuclear and missile aspirations to rollback."
It recommended that the United States start a "high-level strategic dialogue" with China on North Korea's future.
China is Pyongyang's main patron and is seen by many analysts as most interested in stability, fearing that the collapse of North Korea could trigger a flood of refugees or create a unified, US-allied Korea on its border.
The report also urged strong solidarity with South Korea in the wake of the March sinking of the Cheonan warship, which left 46 dead.
The task force urged Obama to push Congress to ratify a free-trade agreement with South Korea in 2011. Some of Obama's allies are pushing for greater concessions to US automakers.
The report also urged a vigorous commitment to human rights, including stepping up radio broadcasts into North Korea and supporting refugees coming into China.
Source: AFP American Edition