China has long pushed for the process to resume without conditions. But the United States, South Korea, and Japan fear rewarding North Korea for its belligerence and endless repetition of a cycle of tensions and failed talks that have prolonged the crisis.
Kerry's message of openness to diplomacy was clear, however unlikely the chances appeared that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's government would meet the American's conditions.
"I'm not going to be so stuck in the mud that an opportunity to actually get something done is flagrantly wasted because of a kind of predetermined stubbornness," he told U.S.-based journalists.
"You have to keep your mind open. But fundamentally, the concept is they're going to have to show some kind of good faith here," he said.
Tensions have run high on the Korean Peninsula for months, with North Korea testing a nuclear device and its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
The reclusive communist state hasn't stopped there. It has issued almost daily threats that have included possible nuclear strikes against the United States. Analysts and foreign officials say that is still beyond the North Koreans' capability.
Japan is the last stop on a 10-day trip overseas for Kerry, who visited Seoul and Beijing as well in recent days.
In South Korea, he strongly warned North Korea not to launch a missile and he reaffirmed U.S. defense of its allies in the region. In China, he secured a public pledge from Beijing, the only government with significant influence over North Korea, to rid the North of nuclear weapons.
Before returning to the United States, Kerry planned a speech Monday in Japan on the Obama administration's Asia policy.
At each stop on his trip, Kerry stressed that the United States wanted a peaceful resolution of the North Korea situation six decades after a cease-fire ended the Korean War.
But North Korea on Sunday provided a reminder of the difficult task ahead. Its Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea said the government had no intention of talking with Seoul unless the South abandons its confrontational posture, as the North called it.
Seoul had pressed North Korea to discuss restarting operations at a joint factory park on the border, and President Park Geun-hye has stressed peace opportunities after taking power from her more hard-line predecessor, Lee Myung-bak. The presidency expressed regret with North Korea's rebuttal Sunday.