HIROSHIMA – U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry became the first top American diplomat to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum on Monday, offering flowers at the cenotaph inside the park in a move that could pave the way for a possible visit by President Barack Obama during the Group of Seven summit next month.
In a visit that will be closely analyzed by Tokyo, Kerry visited the site of the U.S. atomic bombing with other G-7 foreign ministers, including those of Britain and France. Although Hiroshima has hosted numerous international conferences in the past, including the Non-Proliferation Disarmament Initiative last year, this was the first time foreign ministers representing a number of the world’s nuclear powers had visited the memorial sites.
Ahead of trip, Kerry told Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida that he had been looking forward to the visit. U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy also told Kishida last Friday that Washington understands Hiroshima is a special place for Kishida, a third-generation Lower House lawmaker who represents the city.
At the peace museum, Kerry wrote in the guest book that “everyone in the world should see and feel the power” of the Hiroshima memorial.
“It is a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself,” Kerry wrote.
It remained unclear what G-7 foreign ministers spoke about in the museum as only official photographers were allowed there, a sign that could mean Tokyo is wary of the public reaction among the nuclear powers, especially in the U.S.
The Associated Press reported that Kerry would not apologize for the bombing, citing a U.S. official traveling with the secretary of state.
A majority of Americans still believe the use of atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 71 years ago was justified, according to a Pew Research Center survey last year.
A successful visit to the A-bomb sites is crucial for Kishida, as Tokyo works to build momentum for a potential visit by U.S. President Barack Obama during the G-7 summit scheduled for May 26 and 27 in Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture.
Kishida has repeatedly voiced his hopes that world leaders visit Hiroshima to experience the reality of the atomic bombings.
The Washington Post has reported that Obama, winner of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for his vision of a nuclear weapons-free world, is considering a Hiroshima visit in May, citing aides to Obama. This has coincided with a Yomiuri Shimbun report that the White House is sending a security delegation to Hiroshima at the end of this month.
Still, Tokyo has been cautious about hyping up any potential visit for fear of endangering such a trip.
A U.S. diplomatic cable released by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks revealed that Tokyo had rejected the idea of an Obama visit to Hiroshima in September 2009.
Meanwhile, G-7 foreign ministers are expected to adopt a communique and three other statements to conclude the two-day meeting Monday, including the Hiroshima Declaration on nuclear nonproliferation and a statement on maritime security.
Kishida hopes to use the declaration to help revive global efforts toward nuclear disarmament. That push hit its lowest point after the collapse of the NPT Review Conference last year.
“I’m hoping that we can create momentum for a world free of nuclear weapons by agreeing on issues of nuclear disarmament among the nuclear powers and the non-nuclear powers among the G-7 nations, and send a message to the world,” Kishida said at the end of first day of meetings Sunday.
Kishida told reporters that there was a heated debate over the North Korean nuclear issue at the final session on the first day. The foreign ministers are expected to send a strong message against escalating provocations by North Korea, which conducted its fourth nuclear test in January, followed by the launch of a long-range satellite, which many saw as a cover for a long-range missile.
Kishida also said that foreign ministers share concerns over the East China Sea and the South China Sea, where China is unilaterally attempting to challenge the status quo with its massive land-reclamation projects and deployment of radar and surface-to-air missiles.
A Japanese diplomatic source said that Beijing’s unilateral actions in the waters and the potential enactment of another Air Defense Identification Zone, this time in the South China Sea, are the top concerns for Japan. Those concerns are likely to be included in the maritime security statement, although China is unlikely to be named. Another diplomatic source said that G-7 countries are not seeking to contain China, but are instead looking for ways to discourage Beijing from taking actions that stoke the concern of its neighbors.