NEW YORK — The mayors of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki supported U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent commitment to eliminate nuclear weapons in their respective speeches Tuesday to a session of the preparatory committee of the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.
In his speech at the U.N. headquarters, Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba coined a new term by calling the growing number of nuclear abolitionists around the world as the “Obamajority.”
“President Obama knows that we are the majority standing on a solid moral foundation,” said Akiba, who spoke on behalf of Mayors for Peace, a nongovernmental organization consisting about 3,000 cities around the world that supports the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
“That is why he has promised to conclude negotiations between the U.S. and Russia on a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty by the end of this year that will be ‘legally binding and sufficiently bold,’ ” he said.
“I hope President Obama does not mind my borrowing his name,” Akiba said. “I do it because he is the one who has given all of us new energy and hope that we can and must abolish all nuclear weapons from the surface of this earth.”
The Hiroshima mayor was referring to a joint commitment made by Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on April 1 to work toward nuclear arms reductions.
The commitment was received favorably by world leaders as the right move to realize a nuclear-free world. As the two countries are said to possess 95 percent of the world’s nuclear warheads, there is great hope that their actions will serve as a catalyst to encourage other nuclear-weapons states to follow suit.
Akiba hailed Obama’s speech on April 5 in Prague, in which the president reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to the NPT.
“President Obama’s speech in Prague has assured us that the vast majority of the world is absolutely right in asserting that nuclear weapons should be abolished,” he added.
The treaty came into force in 1970 and serves as the world’s primary legal and political barrier against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Most nations are members, except Israel, India and Pakistan. North Korea withdrew in 2003.
Under the treaty, nuclear-weapons nations vowed to work toward disarmament in exchange for promises that non-weapons states would not acquire them.
The mayor referred to Obama’s pledge that his administration “will immediately and aggressively pursue” the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was signed into effect by then President Bill Clinton in 1996 but failed to be ratified by the Senate.
Akiba also emphasized the significance of the 190 countries that are members of the NPT — which is more than the 119 countries that signed the nuclear-free zones and more than the 170 countries that back Japan’s resolution each year calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons.
Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue pointed the importance of atomic bomb survivors, called hibakusha, playing a role in highlighting the ongoing human tragedy.
“The hopes of these citizens have been raised by the words of United States President Barack Obama, who proclaimed in Prague this April that the United States will take concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons,” the mayor said.
Taue pressed for the United States to hold in Nagasaki a world nuclear safety summit which Washington is planning within a year.
While the importance of the hibakusha, who come to the United Nations with NGOs and bring the human dimension in telling their personal stories, cannot be underestimated, some survivors like Noboru Tasaki point out that their days are numbered.
He is a currently an executive member of the Global Citizen’s Assembly for the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons and previously worked with Nagasaki city’s department in charge of peace-related matters.
He was only 16 months old when the atomic bomb was dropped about 5.5 kilometers from his home in Nagasaki. Tasaki, 65, is one of the youngest surviving hibakusha.
“Survivors think that next year might be the last chance for them to come and participate and make a direct appeal because in the next five or 10 years, they might be unable to come,” he said in an interview with Kyodo News, referring to their unlikely participation at the 2015 and 2020 conferences.
For another survivor, Sueichi Kido, assistant general secretary of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, he also took Obama’s words to heart.
“The United States has a moral responsibility to act” as the only nuclear power to have used nuclear weapons in history, he said.
“We feel encouraged by his words,” he said in his speech. “Our strong desire is that his words will be put into action toward the 2010 NPT Review Conference.”
The 69-year-old Kido was only 5 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. He said he and his mother were walking along the street about 2 km from the epicenter.
Not only did he suffer the physical effects of having half his chest and face burned, but he also endured enormous amounts of stress and faced discrimination in his lifetime.
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