John Kerry visits Hiroshima atomic bomb memorial

HIROSHIMA: John Kerry on Monday became the first US secretary of state to visit Hiroshima’s atomic bomb museum commemorating victims of the 1945 US nuclear attack, highlighting a possible historic visit by President Barack Obama next month.

A senior US official said on Sunday that Kerry would not offer an apology for the United States’ use of the atomic bomb when he joined his counterparts from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan on the visit, which takes place on the sidelines of a G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in the western Japanese city that was once obliterated by US atomic bombing.

It is also the first visit by foreign ministers from Britain and France, two other nuclear powers among G7 nations.

“I will be pleased to visit later today the Peace Memorial Park … in a moment that I hope will underscore to the world the importance of peace and the importance of strong allies working together to make the world safer and, ultimately, we hope to be able to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction,” Kerry said at the start of a meeting with Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, host for the meeting and lawmaker from a Hiroshima district.

“And while we will revisit the past and honor those who perished, this trip is not about the past. It’s about the present and the future particularly, and the strength of the relationship that we have built,” Kerry added.

A US warplane dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, setting the city ablaze and killing 140,000 people by the end of the year. The United States dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki on August 9. Japan surrendered six days later.

Hiroshima’s suffering is vividly displayed at the museum, including victims’ charred and torn clothes, a tricycle ridden by a three-year old boy who died from the blast and statues of the victims, their flesh melting from their arms.

Kerry’s trip could pave the way for an unprecedented visit to Hiroshima by a sitting US president when Obama attends the annual G7 leaders summit in another Japanese city next month.

A visit could be controversial in America if it were viewed as an apology. A majority of Americans still view the bombings as justified to end the war and save US lives, while the vast majority of Japanese believe it was not justified.

While saying the White House has not yet decided, the senior US official said Obama has shown he is willing to do controversial things such as visiting Havana last month.
Hopes for Obama’s visit to Hiroshima were raised after his April 2009 speech in Prague calling for a world without nuclear weapons. He later said that he would be honoured to visit the two nuclear-attacked cities.

The G7 foreign ministers’ trip to the museum and memorial is part of Japan’s effort to send a strong nuclear disarmament message from Hiroshima, the world’s first city to suffer atomic bombing.

Kishida said the ministers will discuss anti-terrorism steps, maritime security and issues related to North Korea, Ukraine and the Middle East.