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A-bomb survivors question denial of ICAN leader's request for meeting with Abe

ICAN's executive director Beatrice Fihn, left, holds up a banner showing the ICAN logo, made from folded paper cranes, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on the evening of Jan. 15, 2018. (Mainichi)

Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), the international nongovernmental organization that won last year's Nobel Peace Prize, was denied a meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during her current visit to Japan in spite of her request for one, on the grounds of scheduling difficulties.

ICAN was instrumental in the adoption of the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Japan has not signed this treaty, but even so, calls have arisen from within Japan, the only country to have been attacked with nuclear weapons in warfare, for the prime minister to meet and talk with the ICAN leader.

Prime Minister Abe is scheduled to return from a trip to Eastern Europe on Jan. 17. Fihn arrived in Japan on Jan. 12, is staying in Tokyo on Jan. 16 and 17, and will leave Japan on Jan. 18. Speaking to reporters after a tour of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima on Jan. 15, she expressed disappointment that she had been denied a chance to meet Prime Minister Abe even though she had been able to meet the leaders of other countries. She noted that Japan, in particular, had been subjected to A-bomb attacks in the past, and said she was keen to talk with the prime minister and figures in the Japanese government. Fihn added she looks forward to a meeting at the next opportunity.

The same day, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a news conference that denial of the meeting came down to "the fact that it was difficult in terms of schedules, nothing more, nothing less."

ICAN had sent the Cabinet Office two written requests since December last year asking for a meeting between Fihn and the prime minister during her stay in Tokyo. Abe has met Nobel laureates from abroad in the past, including economists Paul Krugman in 2014, Robert Merton in 2015, and Joseph Stiglitz in 2016.

The U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons bans the use, development, testing, production, stationing and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, as well as the threat of their use -- the basis of nuclear deterrence. The accord was adopted in the United Nations in July last year with the majority approval of 122 countries. However, Japan, which is under the protection of the U.S. "nuclear umbrella," did not take part in treaty negotiations.

Fumiko Nishizaki, a professor at the University of Tokyo versed in diplomatic history, commented, "The Japanese government has stressed that its final goal is the elimination of nuclear weapons, and it would be normal to respond to a Nobel laureate with respect. Adopting the stance of listening to an organization with conflicting views would have raised the profile of the administration, so this is a regrettable decision."

Meanwhile, Tomoyuki Mimaki, 75, representative director of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-bomb Sufferers Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), voiced distrust toward the government. "I'm disappointed in the prime minister," he said. "Does the government really think that being under the 'nuclear umbrella' is the best thing?"

Koichi Kawano, 78, chairman of the Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs, commented, "I guess that the prime minister can't confidently give a reason for not participating in the treaty. As an A-bombed country, Japan should be offering a congratulatory message for (ICAN's winning of) the Nobel Peace Prize, but instead it's fleeing without any message."

Masao Tomonaga, 74, honorary director of The Japanese Red Cross Nagasaki Genbaku Hospital, commented, "If scheduling is the issue, then it can't be helped, but the important thing is whether the government accepts Ms. Fihn's message or not."

Both Kawano and Tomonaga are survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bombing.

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