PRESIDENT Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima this month, seven decades after the atomic bombing that signaled the start of the nuclear age.
During the historic visit, both Obama and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe are expected to pay respects to the victims of the bombing and push for the elimination of nuclear weapons.
However, a press statement from the White House has confirmed there will be no apology for the use of the atomic bomb by the U.S. in 1945.
The statement read: “The President will make a historic visit to visit Hiroshima with Prime Minister Abe to highlight his continued commitment to pursuing peace and security in a world without nuclear weapons.”
Abe has also said that an apology is not expected, nor necessary. He said: “The prime minister of the world’s only nation to have suffered atomic attacks, and the leader of the world’s only nation to have used the atomic weapons at war will together pay respects for the victims.
“I believe that would be a way to respond to the victims of the atomic bombings and the survivors who are still in pain,” Abe added.
The historic visit will be part of a trip around Asia which will also include Vietnam.
The number of survivors, known as “hibakusha”, entitled to medical assistance from the government stands at more than 183,000.
A visit from an American president will be hugely symbolic for the people of Japan, especially Hiroshima survivors.
A survivors and head of a survivors group, Suna Tsuboi, 91, told Japanese broadcasting organization NHK that “the day has finally come” and they are also not expecting an apology.
“All we want is to see him laying flowers at the peace park and lower his head in silence,” said Tsuboi. “This would be a first step toward abolishing nuclear weapons.”
The devastating bombing of Hiroshima in August 1945 killed 140,000 people, followed by the”Fat Man” bombing of Nagasaki, which killed anywhere between 39,000 to 80,000 more people.
Obama’s call for the elimination of nuclear weapons echoes that of former president Jimmy Carter, who also visited Hiroshima but after the end of his presidency in 1984.
Some groups have expressed skepticism at Obama’s visit, with U.S. anti-nuclear group Peace Action suggesting his call for a nuclear-free world was “not enough”.
Kevin Martin, president of Peace Action, said in statement: “Obama will look insincere if his words espouse ridding the world of nuclear weapons while at the same time his administration continues its plan to spend a trillion dollars over thirty years to upgrade nuclear weapons.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press