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Historic visit to Hiroshima memorial

Bruce I. Konviser (with Reuters, AP, AFP)April 11, 2016

John Kerry has become the highest-ranking US official to visit the memorial to victims of the Hiroshima bombing. At a meeting in the city, G7 foreign ministers agreed to push for a "world without nuclear weapons."

US Secretary of State John Kerry puts his arm around Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida after they and fellow G7 foreign ministers laid wreaths at the cenotaph at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima.
Image: Reuters/J. Ernst

US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday made a historic visit to a World War II museum in the Japanese city of Hiroshima that commemorates the deaths of more than 140,000 Japanese from the first-ever wartime use of an atomic bomb.

The visit by Kerry, who was accompanied by his counterparts from Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Japan, is seen as a possible prelude to a similar visit by President Barack Obama, who will be attending the annual G7 summit of industrialized nations next month in Japan.

The visit came at the end of a two day meeting of G7 foreign ministers in which they called for a "world without nuclear weapons."

The statement was seen both as a nod to the infamous venue of their talks and also North Korea's recent missile tests, which the ministers declared were "repeated provocations."

On Saturday, Pyongyang said it had successfully tested an engine designed for an inter-continental ballistic missile that it claimed could strike the US mainland.

"We reaffirm our commitment to seeking a safer world for all and to creating the conditions for a world without nuclear weapons in a way that promotes international stability," the group said in their "Hiroshima Declaration" on Monday.

Speaking ahead of his historic visit to the Peace Memorial Park, Kerry said he hoped it would "underscore to the world the importance of peace and the importance of strong allies working together to make the world safer and, ultimately, we hope to be able to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction."

"And while we will revisit the past and honor those who perished (in the atomic bomb attack of Hiroshima), this trip is not about the past," Kerry added. "It's about the present and the future particularly, and the strength of the relationship that we have built."

Kerry is the highest-ranking US official to ever visit the site. It is also the first time that top diplomats from Britain and France - also nuclear powers - have visited the memorial park.

US Secretary Kerry talks with Japan's Foreign Minister Kishida during a ceremonial dance at the Itsukushima Shrine while Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond sits nearby.
Kishida was born in HiroshimaImage: Getty Images/AFP/J. Ernst

Bombing of Japan

On August 6, 1945 a US bomber dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, effectively flattening the city instantly. The radioactive fallout killed tens of thousands almost immediately, and by year's end 140,000 inhabitants were dead.

Shortly after the bombing, the US called on Japan to surrender unconditionally. When the Asian empire refused, another atomic bomb was dropped on the southern city of Nagasaki on August 9. Japan began the process of surrender, which became official six days later.

Kerry's visit, and any possible visit by Obama, should not be viewed as an apology. Most Americans view the country's use of atomic bombs against Japan as a necessary means to ending an intractable conflict. In their view, it ultimately saved many American lives.

The White House has given no indications yet whether Obama will visit Hiroshima, but as his trip to Cuba last month shows, he is willing to make bold statements.

And a visit to Hiroshima would also be fitting for a US president who, during an April 2009 speech in Prague, called for a world without nuclear weapons. He subsequently said he would be honored to visit the two nuclear-attacked cities.