Obama to visit Hiroshima on May 27 as 1st sitting U.S. head of state
TOKYO (Kyodo) -- U.S. President Barack Obama will make the first visit to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. head of state on May 27 to renew his resolve to seek a world free of nuclear weapons, both governments said Tuesday.
Officials from the Japanese and U.S. governments said the purpose of Obama's planned trip to the atomic-bombed city will be to promote a future-oriented stance on nuclear disarmament rather than for the U.S. leader to apologize for the nuclear attacks 71 years ago.
The U.S. president's visit to Hiroshima with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will "highlight (Obama's) continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons," the White House said in a statement.
Abe said he welcomes the U.S. president's visit to the Japanese city devastated by a 1945 U.S. atomic bomb in the final days of World War II "from the bottom of my heart" as a big step toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.
"I believe that President Obama making a trip to Hiroshima, seeing the reality of the consequences of atomic bombings and expressing his feeling to the world, will be a big force toward a world without nuclear weapons," Abe told reporters.
One of Obama's close aides, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, said the president is unlikely to comment during his visit to Hiroshima on whether the atomic bombings of Japan are justifiable.
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, dismissed the view that Obama's visit to the city could be tantamount to an apology for the nuclear attacks.
"If people do interpret it that way, they'll be interpreting it wrongly, so I don't think that there's much risk in that," Earnest told reporters.
Survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and local government officials generally welcomed the announcement but some said he should have visited the atom-bombed city earlier, rather than in the final stage of his eight-year tenure. Obama leaves office in January 2017.
Obama will make the trip on the day a two-day Group of Seven summit in Japan ends.
The U.S. media have reported Obama could give a speech similar to his 2009 Prague address calling for a world without nuclear weapons if he visits Hiroshima.
Obama will visit the Peace Memorial Park near ground zero, where the arch-shaped cenotaph is located, Earnest said. A Japanese government source said the president may visit the Peace Memorial Museum, which displays artifacts of atomic bomb victims and survivors, such as a charred tricycle.
It is not yet decided whether Obama will meet with some atomic bomb survivors in Hiroshima, Earnest said.
In mid-April, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited memorial locations in Hiroshima such as the museum and the Atomic Bomb Dome, skeletal remains of the only major building partially left standing after the explosion. He did so on the sidelines of a G-7 foreign ministers' meeting in the city last month.
Obama, who took office in January 2009, was awarded that year's Nobel Peace Prize for his stated intention to seek a world without nuclear weapons, a commitment he made in the high-profile speech in Prague three months after inauguration.
A visit by a serving president to Hiroshima is expected to stir controversy in the United States due to concerns it could be construed as tantamount to an apology for the attacks.
There is widespread belief that the atomic bombings were necessary to make Japan surrender earlier than it would otherwise have done and save the lives of many U.S. soldiers as a result.
During his first trip to Japan as president in 2009, Obama told a press conference in Tokyo that he would be "honored" to have the opportunity to visit the cities.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945 and another on Nagasaki on Aug. 9. Japan surrendered on Aug. 15, bringing the war to an end.
The number of people -- most of them civilians -- who had died by the end of 1945 from the bombings is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.
The highest-ranking U.S. official so far to have visited Hiroshima is Nancy Pelosi, who did so in 2008 as speaker of the House of Representatives. The House chief stands behind only the vice president in the line of succession to the U.S. presidency.
In 1984, Jimmy Carter, as a former American president, visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima.
Obama has sent U.S. ambassadors John Roos and Caroline Kennedy to the annual peace ceremonies in the atomic-bombed cities since 2010. Rose Gottemoeller, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, also attended the ceremony in Hiroshima last year.