U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy expressed hope on Thursday that U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the atomic-bombed city of Hiroshima in late May will build momentum toward a world without nuclear weapons and encourage more people to visit there.
The visit as the first sitting U.S. leader “gave him a chance to rearticulate his commitment to pursuing a world without nuclear weapons. And I think it sent a very powerful message,” Kennedy said in an interview with Kyodo News ahead of the anniversary of the Aug. 6, 1945, U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
Kennedy was hopeful that Obama’s trip would spur more people to visit Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first nuclear attack, as well as Nagasaki, where the United States dropped a second atomic bomb three days later.
The ambassador, who has for the past two years attended the anniversary ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, will not attend them this year as she will be in the United States. She did accompany Obama on his visit to Hiroshima in May.
Describing her trip to Hiroshima with Obama as “really a wonderful moment that I will always treasure,” Kennedy underlined the impact of this event as a “very important moment for U.S.-Japan relations.”
According to Kennedy, the Hiroshima visit “was really his decision.”
Noting how her father, former U.S. President John F. Kennedy, was dedicated to nuclear disarmament efforts including pushing for the limited nuclear test ban treaty with Britain and the Soviet Union, Kennedy said, “President Obama has certainly carried forward that aspect of his legacy,” referring to her father’s achievement.
Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009, after calling for a world free of nuclear weapons in a famous address in Prague that year.
While saying Obama’s visit to Hiroshima will have an impact on future U.S. policymaking, Kennedy indicated the need for the U.S. government to study its nuclear policy options — including the “no first use” policy for nuclear weapons — in light of the current global security environment, including the threat posed by North Korea.
Whether the U.S. government declares such a policy shift — ruling out a nuclear strike unless the United States is itself attacked with nuclear weapons — is being watched closely in Japan, which fears the change would undermine the credibility of the nuclear deterrence provided to Japan and other allies under the U.S. nuclear umbrella.
Separately, in a written response to Kyodo News, Kennedy said, “The U.S.-Japan alliance is stronger than it has ever been,” and went on to say that economic ties “will continue to strengthen under TPP,” referring to the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership deal which includes Japan.
Touching on recent base-related incidents including the upcoming trial of a U.S. civilian base worker for the murder of a woman in Okinawa Prefecture, Kennedy offered her deep apology and pledged to prevent a recurrence of such incidents and to enforce stricter discipline among U.S. military personnel in Japan.
Being involved, as ambassador, in promoting female empowerment, Kennedy also welcomed the recent election of the first female Tokyo governor and urged the Japanese business community to put “an even higher priority” on women taking more active leadership roles.