Kerry Steers Clear of Formal Apology in Hiroshima, But Will Obama?

Posted: Apr 11, 2016 8:46 AM

Secretary of State John Kerry visited Hiroshima on Monday, the first time America’s top diplomat has ever done so. And while it was an emotional trip for Kerry, he issued no formal apology to the city that was devastated by the world’s first atomic bomb seven decades ago. But would President Obama?

The White House is reportedly watching the trip closely, considering whether Obama should become the first president to visit the city when he travels to Japan for the G7 Summit in Ise-Shima in May.

If he does, it could symbolize an apology.

The Washington Post reports:

No sitting U.S. president has ever visited Hiroshima, out of concern that such a trip might be interpreted as an apology. The bombing killed 140,000 people but has been viewed by many Americans as a necessary evil to end World War II and save the lives of U.S. troops.

Today, however, there is growing sentiment inside the White House that President Obama, who in his first year envisioned a world without nuclear weapons, should cap his final year with a grand symbolic gesture in service of a goal that remains well out of reach.

No final decision has been made, but aides have begun exploring the possibility of Obama spending several hours in Hiroshima in May, after attending the Group of Seven Summit in Ise-Shima, halfway between Tokyo and Hiroshima. One senior Obama administration official, in an interview, suggested that the president could potentially deliver a speech there that evokes the nonproliferation themes of his address in Prague in 2009. Such a move would draw international attention in a more emotional fashion than did his nuclear security summit in Washington last week. 

“It’s not lost on us that this would bring the Prague speech and the conception of a world without nuclear weapons full circle and offer a very poignant platform for a message that is so central to the Obama presidency,” said one unnamed senior administration official, the Post reports. “This is not a triple bank shot. The risks are manageable.”

If Obama were to visit, Hidehiko Yuzaki, governor of Hiroshima prefecture, said recently that he thinks the majority of residents would welcome him and view the trip as a sign the president is “trying to move things forward.”

“The difference between President Obama and the heads of other nuclear weapon countries is that, of course, the U.S. dropped the bomb,” Yuzaki added. “But we’re not expecting President Obama to apologize.”