During a highly anticipated moment at Tuesday's summit in Singapore, Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat down to sign a joint statement, the result of a day's worth of nuclear disarmament discussions. Both leaders were given black pens inscribed in gold with Trump's signature, but Kim Jong Un opted to use his own pen instead.
A video of the event shows a North Korean aide wiping down Kim's "Donald Trump" pen and placing it on the table for him. Then, immediately before the signing, Kim's sister and close adviser, Kim Yo Jong, slipped her brother a different pen from her blazer. He signed the document, promising his "firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," and handed the pen back to her.
Why the swap? "Presumably to avoid assassination by poison pen," said Tim Stanley, an analyst for The Telegraph.
Kim is known to be extremely paranoid about his security and maintains a high level of secrecy about his life. Particular concern was given to the possibility of an assassination attempt during the Singapore summit, and the North Korean government went to great lengths to protect him both while traveling to the summit and during his stay.
Kim arrived in Singapore on an American-made Boeing 747, loaned to him by the Chinese government. Reportedly the plane flew a longer route through Beijing instead of through Shanghai over the Yellow Sea, because it is harder to protect a plane over water. Two decoy planes also flew with him, and his sister Kim Yo Jong followed on a separate flight a few hours later.
In fact, Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, was also known to travel with a portable toilet, a precautionary measure to avoid leaving any trace of personal, or biological, information behind.
"[Kim Jong Un's] excretions contain information about his health status so they can’t be left behind," said Lee Yun-keol, a North Korean defector who worked in a Guard Command unit, told The Washington Post in April.
Similar precautions were noted at the April meeting between Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Panmunjom. The New Yorker reported that in addition to bringing his own toilet, Kim arrived with his own pens and pencils, and his staff wiped down anything he touched to remove fingerprints.
Kim's bulletproof limousine was also flown to Singapore for the summit, and his crew of running bodyguards made a second appearance after making headlines in Panmunjom.
BBC reported the bodyguards who jog alongside Kim's limousine are carefully vetted and trained to observe and neutralize potential threats. Kim's bodyguards belong to the North Korean Guard Command, which maintains a three-tiered manned security system that surrounds Kim wherever he goes. They are also among the few North Korean citizens allowed to carry firearms, in order to protect Kim.
Yo Jong swapping out a pen is relatively minor detail in the larger scope of Tuesday's summit, and while speculated to be a security measure, it's possible it was a subtle political move — choosing to use his own pen, rather than one Trump gave him — or even just an inconsequential matter of personal preference. Still, given Kim's demonstrated paranoia and the almost unheard of levels of security and attention to detail historically taken by North Korea, it would not be a leap to think even a pen swap has underlying meaning.