President Barack Obama will go to the atom-bombed city of Hiroshima after a G7 summit in Japan next month, the Nikkei business daily reported Friday, in what would be a first for a sitting US leader.
Washington will “arrange with Japan his visit on May 27 when the G7 leaders’ summit wraps up,” the newspaper said, citing several US government officials it did not identify.
The White House refused to comment, while Japan said that there were no ongoing arrangements between the two sides for such a visit.
White House officials have said that Obama is considering stopping in the city late next month around the time of the May 26-27 Group of Seven summit that is to take place in another part of Japan.
A visit by Obama would have enormous symbolic importance and would follow US Secretary of State John Kerry’s journey last week to Hiroshima, which took in the memorial and museum to the 1945 bombing in the city.
Kerry, who was joined by other G7 foreign ministers, is the highest-ranking US administration official to pay respects at the spot where an American plane dropped an A-bomb in the world’s first-ever nuclear attack.
While visiting the city, Kerry declined to comment on the likelihood of an Obama visit.
“That is subject to a very full and complicated schedule that the president has to plan out way ahead of time,” he said.
Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his call for a world without nuclear weapons, is expected to make a speech about nuclear abolition, the Nikkei said, citing an unnamed high-ranking US government official.
Obama is also considering offering a floral tribute at Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is also expected to accompany Obama, according to the paper.
A US official told the Nikkei that Washington will formally notify Japan of the plans early next month.
Asked at a regular press conference whether the US and Japan are working to arrange a visit to Hiroshima by Obama, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, the government’s top spokesman, flatly denied it.
“It is not true,” Suga said.
But he added it is “very important” for Japan that world leaders visit Hiroshima and understand the reality of the suffering caused by the atomic bombing.
Speculation of an Obama visit has intensified since Kerry said in Hiroshima after he and his G7 counterparts wrapped up two days of talks there that everyone should visit the city.
“I hope one day the president of the United States will be among the everyone who is able to come here,” he said.
About 140,000 people died directly from the Hiroshima blast or later from severe radiation exposure. The city, a key military installation during the war, was flattened by the massive detonation.
The atomic bombing of Nagasaki followed three days later, killing some 74,000 people. Japan surrendered within a week to end World War II.