Kerry becomes 1st U.S. sec. of state to visit Hiroshima A-bomb park

HIROSHIMA — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on April 11 visited a peace park marking the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing in the western Japan city of Hiroshima, the first top U.S. diplomat to do so, focusing attention on whether President Barack Obama will follow suit when he visits Japan later in the year.

In a symbolic gesture, Kerry offered flowers at a cenotaph for the atomic bomb victims in the Peace Memorial Park, along with his counterparts from Britain and France, the two other nuclear weapons states in the Group of Seven framework.

Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault are in Hiroshima to attend the two-day G-7 ministerial meeting that started on April 10. It is also the first time that the foreign ministers of the two European countries have visited the park.

Describing how “deeply moved” he was after visiting the park and Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which featured what he described as a “gut-wrenching display” of the atomic bomb’s aftermath, Kerry told a press conference that when he returns to Washington, he will “certainly convey to him (Obama) what I saw here and how important it is at some point” for the U.S. president to visit the atomic bombed city.

While Kerry said he hopes the U.S. president would someday make the trip, he does not know whether it will be possible when Obama travels to Japan for the G-7 summit meeting in Mie Prefecture in May.

In a tweet, where he said he is “honored” to be the first secretary of state to visit the museum and the park, Kerry revealed what he wrote in a guestbook.
“Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial,” his message read, referring to it as a “compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself.”

At Kerry’s proposal, the ministers also made an unscheduled visit to the iconic building preserved near the cenotaph, which later came to be called the Atomic Bomb Dome, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said in a statement released after their park visit. The dome was registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

It is the only structure left standing in the area hit by the atomic bomb.

“The first visit by G-7 ministers to the Peace Memorial Park marks a historic step to revive momentum toward a world without nuclear weapons,” said Kishida, a Diet lawmaker from a district in the city of Hiroshima.

In his press preference wrapping up the G-7 meeting he chaired, Kishida said he felt that the park visit had a “big impact” on the other G-7 foreign ministers.

Surrounded by local schoolchildren, the ministers — also including Germany’s Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Italy’s Paolo Gentiloni and Stephane Dion of Canada — laid flowers at the cenotaph and observed a moment of silence.

A memorial is held in the park every year on the anniversary of the world’s first atomic bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, which killed an estimated 140,000 people by the end of that year. Three days after, a second U.S. atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in southwestern Japan, and Japan surrendered on Aug. 15 that year, bringing World War II to an end.

Before heading to the cenotaph, the G-7 ministers toured the Peace Memorial Museum, which is situated in the park grounds and displays artifacts from the atomic bombing.

“Going through this museum was a reminder of this indisputable truth that war must never be the first resort. It must be the last resort,” Kerry said, adding he will “never forget” the images there.

He also said the museum reminded people including all those in public office of the “obligation” to work for peace and help global efforts to create a world free of nuclear weapons.

If Obama, who pledged to seek a nuclear-weapon-free world in a 2009 speech in Prague and won the Nobel Peace Prize that year, were to go to the park, he would be the first U.S. president to do so.

The issue is a politically sensitive one due to strong opinion in the United States and elsewhere that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were necessary to end WWII quickly, with some believing that a visit by Obama to the park could be interpreted as an apology.

The Washington Post reported in its online edition April 9 that Obama could deliver a speech similar to his 2009 Prague address if he visits Hiroshima after attending the G-7 summit.

Being the sole country to have suffered atomic bombings, Japan has been pushing for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament over the years, and is keen to use visits by the world’s political leaders to build momentum toward abolishing the use of nuclear weapons, Japanese officials said.

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