President Barack Obama will make history as the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of an American-inflicted nuclear attack that left an estimated 140,000 people dead. President Obama will make the first visit to Hiroshima by a sitting U.S. head of state on May 27 to renew his resolve to seek a world free of nuclear weapons, according to both governments on Tuesday.
Officials from the Japanese and U.S. governments said the purpose of Obama’s planned trip to the atomic-bombed city will be to promote a future-oriented stance on nuclear disarmament rather than for the U.S. leader to apologize for the nuclear attacks 71 years ago.
The U.S. president’s visit to Hiroshima with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will “highlight [Obama’s] continued commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons,” the White House said in a statement.
Abe said he welcomes the president’s visit to the Japanese city devastated by a 1945 US atomic bomb in the final days of World War II “from the bottom of my heart” as a big step toward realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.
“I believe that President Obama making a trip to Hiroshima, seeing the reality of the consequences of atomic bombings and expressing his feeling to the world, will be a big force toward a world without nuclear weapons,” Abe told reporters.
One of Obama’s close aides, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes, said the president is unlikely to comment during his visit to Hiroshima on whether the atomic bombings of Japan are justifiable.
Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, dismissed the view that Obama’s visit to the city could be tantamount to an apology for the nuclear attacks.
“If people do interpret it that way, they’ll be interpreting it wrongly, so I don’t think that there’s much risk in that,” Earnest told reporters.
Survivors of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and local government officials generally welcomed the announcement, but some said he should have visited the atom-bombed city earlier—rather than in the final stage of his eight-year tenure.
Obama leaves office in January 2017.