John Kerry has become the first US secretary of state to visit the Hiroshima peace park, more than 70 years after the city was devastated by the world’s first atomic bombing.
Kerry, who laid a wreath at the cenotaph for the victims of the bombing, did not offer an apology for the bomb, which killed about 140,000 people.
“It is a stunning display, it is a gut-wrenching display,” he told reporters of his tour of the memorial museum, recounting exhibits that showed the bomb, the explosion, the “incredible inferno” and mushroom cloud that enveloped the city on 6 August 1945. “It tugs at all of your sensibilities as a human being. It reminds everybody of the extraordinary complexity of choices of war and what war does to people, to communities, countries, the world.”
Kerry urged all world leaders to visit, saying: “I don’t see how anyone could forget the images, the evidence, the recreations of what happened.”
Asked if this meant Barack Obama should come, Kerry said: “Everyone means everyone. So I hope one day the president of the United States will be among the everyone who is able to come here. Whether or not he can come as president, I don’t know.”
A visit by Obama – who will be in Japan to attend a G7 summit in late May – could be controversial in the US if it were viewed as an apology. A majority of Americans view the bombings as justified to end the war and save US lives, while the vast majority of Japanese believe it was not justified.
Earlier, Kerry wrote in the museum’s guestbook: “It is a … harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all of our effort to avoid war itself. War must be the last resort – never the first choice.”
Fumio Kishida, Kerry’s Japanese counterpart, said: “We want to send out a strong message of peace to the world.” He called Kerry’s visit historic.
The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, and France’s Jean-Marc Ayrault also visited the park. It was the first such visit by foreign ministers from countries possessing nuclear weapons.
“By coming here, we recognise and we affirm our understanding of the responsibility on us to avoid war in the future and to find peaceful solutions to problems and that’s what we are committed to do,” Hammond told Kyodo News.
G7 representatives later released the “Hiroshima Declaration” – a statement on nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
“In this historic meeting, 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 statement read. “This task is made more complex by the deteriorating security environment in a number of regions, such as Syria and Ukraine and, in particular, by North Korea’s repeated provocations.”
In a separate statement, the group condemned North Korea for continuing its weapons development program despite international criticism. This year, the country has tested a nuclear bomb as well as ballistic missile technology.
“These repeated provocations not only undermine regional stability, but also pose grave threats to international peace and security, and are clear violations of multiple UN security council resolutions,” the foreign ministers wrote in a joint communique. “We demand North Korea not conduct any further nuclear tests or launches that use ballistic missile technology, nor engage in any other destabilising or provocative actions.”
Ministers from the US, South Korea and Japan will meet in Seoul next week to discuss a joint strategy for dealing with Pyongyang. Officials will discuss ways to strengthen trilateral cooperation and work towards denuclearisation of North Korea.
The communique went on to condemn North Korea for violating human rights, including through the abduction of a number of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s.
Japan has been pushing for nuclear nonproliferation and disarmament since the end of the occupation in 1952, when the Allied powers left the country.
Kerry was in Hiroshima for the G7 foreign ministers meeting, where diplomats agreed to work together to fight terrorism. On the sidelines of the meeting, Kishida and Kerry reaffirmed their agreement to transfer US troops to a new base in Okinawa after the controversial Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is closed.
Reuters contributed to this report
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