U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to make a historic visit to Hiroshima on May 27, a Japanese business newspaper reported Friday. It said he will make a speech in the city calling for the abolition of nuclear arms.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stopped short of confirming the Nikkei’s report on Friday, but chose his words carefully.
Such a visit would make history in several ways. No serving U.S. president has gone to Hiroshima, held back in part by conservatives who argue that Washington ought not to show regret for the bombing just over 70 years ago.
The Nikkei, formally known as Nihon Keizai Shimbun, cited unnamed high-ranking U.S. officials for its report. It said Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will accompany Obama on the visit.
Obama is set to attend the Ise-Shima Group of Seven summit meeting in Shima, Mie Prefecture, on May 26 and 27.
He plans to travel to Hiroshima immediately afterward, the Nikkei said.
Questioned about the report on Friday, Suga said Tokyo and Washington are not jointly discussing any plan for Obama to visit Hiroshima. Where Obama travels while in Japan is a matter for the U.S. side alone, he said.
“I will refrain from commenting,” he added.
However, Suga said Tokyo believes that if any world leader were to visit Hiroshima to learn about the suffering caused, it “would bear great importance for our country, which is aiming for a world without nuclear weapons.”
A marked silence by Japanese officials on the potential visit, which has long been rumored, appears to reflect understanding that it would be greatly sensitive — both in Japan and in the U.S.
A 2015 survey by Pew Research Center showed 56 percent of Americans believe the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were justified, while only 14 percent of Japanese believe so.
This sentiment gap has made any visit by the American leader to Hiroshima a potential powder keg.
The atomic bomb hit Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. City officials say about 140,000 citizens died either in the blast or from injuries or radiation sickness by the end of December that year.
On Aug. 9, the U.S. dropped another atomic bomb on Nagasaki, killing an estimated 74,000 people.