HIROSHIMA — US President Barack Obama is set to visit Hiroshima on Friday, becoming the first American head of state to do so since the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city in August 1945.
Obama embarks on the trip having dismissed criticism that such a visit could be interpreted as tantamount to an apology for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki City, which many in the United States and other nations believe were necessary to bring an earlier end to World War II and save thousands of lives.
Obama is in Japan to attend a two-day summit of the Group of Seven nations which began in Shima on Thursday. He will leave the central Japan city for Hiroshima, some 400 kilometers west, after the summit has wrapped up.
Following a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday, Obama pledged to take advantage of a tour of the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima to promote his commitment to seeking a world free of nuclear weapons and remember all victims of the war.
“Our visit to Hiroshima will honor all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons,” Obama told a press conference with Abe in Shima.
Abe will accompany Obama on a tour of the park which houses the Peace Memorial Museum, and the Atomic Bomb Dome, the skeletal remains of the only major building partially left standing after the Aug. 6 blast.
On arriving at the park near ground zero Obama will lay a wreath at the arch-shaped cenotaph and make some brief comments, the White House said.
At least three atomic-bomb survivors, Nagasaki Mayor Tomihisa Taue and Nagasaki Gov. Hodo Nakamura are likely to be among about 100 people in the audience at the ceremony, according to sources familiar with the planning of the event and a group of atomic-bomb survivors.
Obama may also visit the memorial museum, which displays various artifacts and items belonging to victims of the bombing, such as a charred tricycle.
A 94-year-old former American soldier who was captured by Japan during the war had planned to go to Hiroshima together with Obama, according to a veterans’ group.
But the American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society said Wednesday that he has been informed by the White House that he would not be among those present in the park.
In mid-April, US Secretary of State John Kerry visited memorial locations in Hiroshima on the sidelines of G-7 foreign ministers’ meeting there.
Obama, who took office in January 2009, was awarded that year’s Nobel Peace Prize for his stated intention to seek a world without nuclear weapons, a commitment he made in a high-profile speech in Prague three months after his inauguration.
During his first trip to Japan as president in 2009, Obama told a press conference in Tokyo that he would be “honored” to have the opportunity to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The United States dropped an atomic bomb on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, and Japan surrendered six days later.
The number of people — mostly civilians — who had died by the end of 1945 from the bombings is estimated at 140,000 in Hiroshima and 74,000 in Nagasaki, according to the cities.
The highest-ranking US official so far to have visited Hiroshima is Nancy Pelosi, who did so in 2008 as speaker of the House of Representatives. The House chief stands behind only the vice president in the line of succession to the US presidency.
In 1984 Jimmy Carter, as a former American president, visited the Peace Memorial Museum in Hiroshima.PNA/Kyodo/northboundasia.com