Barack Obama will become the first sitting US president to visit Hiroshima in Japan later this month, but he will not apologise for the United States’ dropping of an atomic bomb on the city in World War Two, the White House said on Tuesday.
Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize early in his presidency in 2009 in part for his commitment to nuclear non-proliferation, Obama on May 27 will visit the site of the world’s first nuclear bomb attack with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
With the end of his last term in office approaching in January 2017, Obama will “highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the White House said in a statement.
“He will not revisit the decision to use the atomic bomb at the end of World War II. Instead, he will offer a forward-looking vision focused on our shared future,” US Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes wrote in a separate blog.
The visit comes as part of a May 20-28 swing through Asia, which will include a Group of Seven summit in Japan and a visit to Vietnam. It will be the 10th trip to the region for Obama, who has tried to make a foreign policy ‘pivot’ toward Asia.
On the final day of the summit in Japan, Obama and Abe will visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park near the spot where a US warplane dropped an atomic bomb 71 years ago at the end of World War Two. There have been concerns that a US presidential visit would be controversial in the United States if it were seen as an apology.
The bomb dropped on Aug 6, 1945 killed thousands of people instantly and about 140,000 by the end of that year. Another was dropped on the city of Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered six days later.
The majority of Americans view the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as justified to end the war and save US lives, while most Japanese see it as unjustified.
Abe, speaking to reporters in Tokyo, said he hoped “to turn this into an opportunity for the US and Japan to together pay tribute to the memories of the victims” of the nuclear bombing.
“President Obama visiting Hiroshima and expressing toward the world the reality of the impact of nuclear radiation will contribute greatly to establishing a world without nuclear arms,” Abe added.
After US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hiroshima last month, survivors of the bombing and other residents said that if Obama visits, they hope for progress in ridding the world of nuclear weapons, rather than an apology.
Kerry toured the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and Museum, calling the museum’s haunting displays “gut-wrenching.” The displays include photographs of badly burned victims, the tattered and stained clothes they wore and statues depicting them with flesh melting from their limbs.
US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy also recently travelled to the city, according to Rhodes, adding that it was “the appropriate moment” Obama to visit.