National / History

White House offers fresh hints on possible visit to Hiroshima by Obama

by Ayako Mie


Tokyo remained silent Wednesday over a potential visit to Hiroshima by U.S. President Barack Obama, even after the White House said he is considering making one on the sidelines of a Group of Seven summit next month.

“I would not comment on Obama’s potential visit, as it is something the U.S. government decides,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Wednesday.

Suga added, Tokyo has not requested such a visit. In 2009, Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in part for his vision of a world without nuclear weapons.

Suga’s comment came after White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the president’s staff will “obviously consider our options here.” Earnest also said there is “no more powerful illustration” than Hiroshima to show Obama’s commitment to a nonnuclear future.

Several U.S. government officials have hinted at a possible visit by Obama, but this is the first time that the White House admitted one is possible.

“I think the White House is testing the waters to see domestic reaction,” said a high-ranking Japanese official.

Even after a successful visit to Hiroshima by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Japanese government is taking care not to ramp up expectations.

When asked about a potential visit, policymakers such as Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida have replied only that it is important for global leaders to visit Hiroshima and see for themselves what destruction nuclear weapons can cause.

Yet Tokyo never puts Obama on the spot by asking him in public to visit, apparently fearing a negative reaction from those Americans who would consider a visit synonymous with an apology for the atomic bomb strike 71 years ago. A Pew Research survey last year found that a majority of Americans believe the dropping of two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry has defended its translation of this week’s Hiroshima Declaration, which in the official Japanese version appeared to contain stronger wording than the English.

At the end of their two-day meeting on Monday, G-7 foreign ministers adopted a statement that includes this line in English: “Hiroshima and Nagasaki experienced immense devastation and human suffering as a consequence of the atomic bombings.”

In Japanese, “human suffering” was rendered as hiningenteki na kunan (“inhumane suffering,” or “humanitarian consequences”). Despite the disparity in tone between the two English translations, both can be derived from the original Japanese.

The liberal-leaning daily newspaper Asahi Shimbun pointed out the discrepancy, but the ministry said it stands by the translation.

“If you think about the gist of the Hiroshima Declaration, which shows the reality of the atomic bomb, the translation is appropriate,” Foreign Press Secretary Yasuhisa Kawamura told reporters.

The phrase “humanitarian consequences,” implying an inhumane nature, is controversial among nuclear powers.

The U.N. General Assembly last December adopted a resolution expressing deep concern at the “catastrophic humanitarian consequences” of any use of nuclear weapons. Inclusion of the phrase prompted nuclear powers such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom to abstain from voting.

Those nations oppose such a linking of the weapons to inhumanity.

Nuclear disarmament experts also say that the phrase “humanitarian consequences” is often used in the context of a ban on nuclear testing or a ban on the use of nuclear weapons, which nuclear powers oppose.

A Japanese diplomatic source said some G-7 countries informed Japan when drafting the declaration that “human suffering” is acceptable wording instead of “humanitarian consequences.”

Yet some experts believe that the ministry quietly added extra salt to the Japanese version.

“I think the translation underscores Tokyo’s consideration for the Japanese public. I think they wanted to show they’ve won a stronger word,” said Akira Kawasaki, an executive committee member of Tokyo-based lobby group Peace Boat.

Information From Kyodo Added