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President Obama set for historic visit to Hiroshima

Published 10/05/2016

President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima
President Barack Obama will visit Hiroshima

President Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima, where the US dropped an atomic bomb during World War II.

President Obama will visit the site with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a previously scheduled trip to Japan, the White House announced.

The president intends to "highlight his continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons", White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

The president will not apologise for the bombing, the White House made clear. And Mr Abe said none was expected nor necessary, suggesting the visit itself would send a powerful message.

"The prime minister of the world's only nation to have suffered atomic attacks, and the leader of the world's only nation to have used the atomic weapons at war will together pay respects for the victims," Mr Abe told reporters.

"I believe that would be a way to respond to the victims of the atomic bombings and the survivors who are still in pain."

The president's visit has been widely anticipated since US Secretary of State John Kerry's trip to the Hiroshima memorial in April.

Mr Kerry toured the peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised nations and participated in an annual memorial service just steps from the site's ground zero.

Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui praised President Obama's plan to visit as a "bold decision based on conscience and rationality", adding that he hopes the president will have a chance to hear the survivors' stories.

He also expressed hope the visit would be "a historic first step toward an international effort toward abolishing nuclear weapons, which is a wish of all mankind".

The US attack on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, in the final days of World War II, killed 140,000 people and badly burned many thousands more.

While it scarred a generation of Japanese, both physically and mentally, many Americans believe the bombing, along with another August 9 on the city of Nagasaki, hastened the end of the war and saved countless other lives. Japan announced it would surrender on August 15.

Diverging views about an act that forever changed war have made a visit from a sitting US president a delicate and arguably politically risky move.

Former President Jimmy Carter did visit, in 1984, three years after he left office.

It took 65 years for a US ambassador to attend the annual memorial service.

In the US, officials remain wary that a presidential visit could be perceived as an apology for an act believed to have saved American lives.

Sunao Tsuboi, 91, a survivor of the bombing and head of a survivors' group in the western Japanese city, welcomed the decision.

"The day has finally come," Mr Tsuboi told Japan's NHK national television.

"We are not asking for an apology," Mr Tsuboi said. "All we want is to see him lay flowers at the peace park and lower his head in silence. This would be a first step toward abolishing nuclear weapons."

Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue said he respected President Obama for what he saw as a tough decision.

"I expect that the president will send a powerful message, in his own words, toward achieving a world without nuclear weapons," Mr Taue said in a statement.

Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, a US-based group, said President Obama should use the visit to announce specific steps to "bring the world closer to being free of nuclear weapons", such as reducing the number of nuclear warheads in reserve.

"Obama will look insincere if his words espouse ridding the world of nuclear weapons while at the same time his administration continues its plan to spend a trillion dollars over 30 years to upgrade nuclear weapons," Mr Martin said in a statement.

Early in his presidency, President Obama said he would be honoured to make the trip, and the White House has said it often considered a visit on previous trips to Asia. It has not explained why a visit there has never come together.

Asked last week whether the president believes an apology is warranted, Mr Earnest was direct: "No, he does not."

President Obama will be in Japan to attend the Group of 7 economic summit, part of a week-long Asia tour that will also include a stop in Vietnam.

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