Obama May Be First President to Visit Hiroshima, Nikkei Says

  • Visit would come more than 70 years after atomic bombing
  • Newspaper says Obama will be joined by Japanese premier Abe

The Atomic Bomb Dome in Hiroshima.

Photographer: Carl Court/Getty Images

More than 70 years after a U.S. atomic bomb devastated the city of Hiroshima, Barack Obama is set to become the first sitting president to pay tribute to the tens of thousands of victims in the western Japanese city, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday.

Obama will be accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the visit planned to take place after Japan hosts a summit of Group of 7 leaders in late May, the Nikkei said, citing unidentified U.S. officials. A spokesman for the U.S. National Security Council, Mark Stroh, said no decision had been made about whether Obama would visit the city.

The visit, if confirmed, would follow a trip by Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this month to the site that commemorates one of the final acts of World War II. Kerry toured the city’s Atomic Bomb Dome and peace museum, calling the graphic images of the bombing’s aftermath a “gut-wrenching display.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo on Friday that Obama’s schedule was a matter for U.S. authorities, and there was no truth to the report that both countries were making arrangements for the visit.

The bombing of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and of Nagasaki three days later, is widely viewed in the U.S. as having prevented a bloodier land battle and hastening the end of the Pacific War. A trip by the president could stir controversy at home and trigger debate among the candidates seeking to succeed him.

The Nikkei said Obama is likely to take care to ensure the visit does not appear apologetic, and is expected to make a speech calling for a world without nuclear weapons.

“It is high time that a sitting U.S. president paid respects at Hiroshima to strengthen ties, boost U.S. moral authority on history issues and to give much-needed momentum to Obama’s nuclear agenda,” said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Japan. “It seems quite a long time ago that he won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for a speech in Prague about eradicating nuclear arsenals.”

Hiroshima Declaration

At an April 10-11 meeting in the city, G-7 foreign ministers issued a “Hiroshima Declaration” calling for creating a “world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability.” Japan sees momentum toward nonproliferation as slowing, and the government had been keen to use the Hiroshima meeting to put the issue at the top of the G-7 agenda.

About 80,000 people were killed instantly when the Enola Gay, a B-29 bomber, dropped the device on Hiroshima. Tens of thousands more died from injuries and exposure to radiation. Among those who survived, many are still receiving government support.

The subsequent strike on Nagasaki killed an estimated 40,000 people and led to an unprecedented radio address six days later by Emperor Hirohito in which he announced Japan’s unconditional surrender, citing the devastating power of a “new and most cruel bomb.”

Anti-nuclear and pacifist sentiment are strong in Japan, where passions ran high last year when Abe pushed through parliament legislation to expand the role of the country’s military. While covered by the U.S.’s so-called nuclear umbrella, Japan in 1967 adopted three non-nuclear principles that state the country shall not possess, produce or permit the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japanese territory.

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