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Focus shifts to whether Obama will visit Hiroshima on fringes of G-7 summit

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park on April 11, the first visit by a secretary of state of the country that dropped an atomic bomb on the city of Hiroshima in 1945.

    Attention now moves to whether U.S. President Barak Obama will visit Hiroshima when he comes to Japan to attend the Ise-Shima Summit in May. Some people in Hiroshima said they were disappointed with the fact that foreign ministers of the Group of Seven (G-7) industrial countries decided not to include the wording "inhumane" in the nature of nuclear weapons in the "Hiroshima Declaration on Nuclear Disarmament and Non-Proliferation" adopted on April 11.

    After offering flowers at a cenotaph for the atomic bomb victims in the Peace Memorial Park and posing for photographs with his fellow G-7 foreign ministers, Kerry was quoted as telling Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that he wanted to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial known as the "Atomic Bomb Dome" and asked Kishida whether he could go there. In his reply, Kishida reportedly asked Kerry whether he was willing to walk for about five minutes to the dome. The G-7 foreign ministers, including Kerry, then walked about 200 meters to make an unscheduled visit to the A-bomb Dome. Kishida said somewhat emotionally at a subsequent news conference, "That is an example of this visit having a strong impact (on foreign ministers)."

    In a historic speech in Prague in April 2009, Obama clarified America's commitment to seek the "peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons" and declared that "as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act." Obama said in an interview in November that year that he would be honored if he could actually visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki while in office. Obama has some nine months left in office. The Ise-Shima Summit in May could be the last chance for Obama to visit Japan while in office. The U.S. government is earnestly considering whether Obama will visit Hiroshima on the fringes of the G-7 summit.

    Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. The following year, Obama and then Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START). The signing of the treaty by the U.S. and Russia which together possessed 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons boosted expectations for nuclear disarmament. But six years have passed since and the momentum for achieving a "world without nuclear weapons" has been fading. While working out plans to reduce nuclear weapons, the Obama administration itself has been modernizing its nuclear warheads.

    Speaking at a news conference after the Nuclear Security Summit that ran through April 1 this year in Washington, Obama said, "Our work is by no means finished." His visit to the bombed areas such as Hiroshima seems quite effective in rekindling the momentum for nuclear disarmament and engraving his political legacy on the history of the world. Quoting a senior U.S. government official, the Washington Post reported in its April 10 morning edition that if Obama were to actually visit Hiroshima, he "could potentially deliver a speech there that evokes the nonproliferation themes of his address in Prague in 2009."

    A senior Obama administration official said that the U.S. president is interested in visiting Hiroshima. Other U.S. government officials, including U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy who attended the annual Aug. 6 peace ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, are apparently recommending Obama visit Hiroshima next month. At the same time, a White House official said that it was a complicated issue, suggesting that there are cautious views within the U.S. government.

    In the United States, there is a deep-rooted view that justifies the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki as ending the war quickly. If Obama's visit to Hiroshima is interpreted as that of remorse and an apology for the bombing, it would likely provide a Republican presidential candidate with great ammunition in the U.S. presidential election in November.

    Therefore, the Obama administration has laid foundations to avoid that sort of scenario. In August 2015, Obama sent U.S. Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller, who is in charge of nuclear disarmament and other issues, to attend the Aug. 6 peace ceremony at the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima. A State Department official said Kerry's visit to Hiroshima would be to "express respect for all of the victims of World War II." U.S. government officials have tried to prevent the pros and cons of dropping the nuclear weapons and an "apology" for the bombings from becoming topics of debate.

    During talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 31, Obama said that the Ise-Shima Summit would be the last opportunity for him to visit Japan as president and that he would consider striving to further improve bilateral ties. The Japanese government is sticking to its wait-and-see stance over what decision the U.S. government will make regarding Obama's Hiroshima visit, with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga saying, "That is what the U.S. side will decide." Prime Minister Abe once considered visiting Pearl Harbor in Hawaii as part of his visit to the United States in the spring of 2015, but that did not eventuate. A diplomatic source involved in Japan-U.S. relations described the dropping of the nuclear weapons as a "thorn stuck deep" in Japan-U.S. ties. If Obama were to visit Hiroshima, it could push up bilateral relations to a higher stage.

    Fumio Matsuo, an 82-year-old former Washington Bureau chief of Kyodo News who advocates the idea of the two countries launching diplomacy to pay respects to each other's war victims, said that there is an option for Prime Minister Abe to convey his intention to visit Pearl Harbor ahead of Obama's visit to Japan. He then said, "Showing that Japanese are not the unilateral victims will constitute consideration for the United States and give a boost for Obama's visit (to Hiroshima)."

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