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Closer to nuclear-free future?


April 9, 2016

EDITORIAL: G-7 in Hiroshima a chance to move closer toward nuke-free future



The gathering in Hiroshima of top diplomats of the Group of Seven major industrialized nations, which include three nuclear powers, sends a powerful message as the world struggles to make progress toward a future without nuclear arms.

The foreign ministers of the United States, Britain and France, as well as Japan and the three other G-7 members, will meet in Hiroshima, the first city to be leveled by an atomic bomb, on April 10 and 11.

Their pilgrimages to the city should breathe new life into international efforts to eliminate nuclear weapons.

On the sidelines of their meeting in Hiroshima, the G-7 foreign ministers will visit the Peace Memorial Park, dedicated to the city's 1945 atomic bombing, and lay flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims on April 11.

They are also expected to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Their tour of the museum that documents the consequences of the U.S. atomic bombing would be even more meaningful if they hold talks with A-bomb survivors and hear their harrowing tales.

The G-7 officials traveling to Hiroshima include U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the Obama administration's top Cabinet member.

Kerry will be the highest-ranking active U.S. politician to visit Hiroshima after Nancy Pelosi, who went in 2008 as the speaker of the House of Representatives.

More than 200,000 people perished in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Many Americans, however, regard the attacks as justifiable, arguing that they accelerated Japan’s surrender in World War II and thereby saved many lives.

Despite serious differences between Japan and the United States in perceptions over history, President Barack Obama agreed to Japan’s request for Kerry to visit Hiroshima. We applaud Obama's weighty political decision.

We are inclined to regard the decision as a sign that Obama, whose term will expire in January, is still committed to working toward “a world without nuclear weapons,” the vision he announced to the world in his historic speech in Prague in 2009.

The Obama administration sent its ambassador to Japan to most of the annual ceremonies to commemorate the atomic bombings that have been held in Hiroshima and Nagasaki since 2010.

Last year, the administration sent Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller to attend the ceremonies.

In Japan, expectations are growing that Obama himself will travel to the A-bombed cities when he visits Japan in May to attend the G-7 summit, to be held in Shima, Mie Prefecture.

In the United States, the political climate is heating up as the races for the Democratic and Republican nominations for the autumn presidential election are entering the home stretch.

Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has been delivering a range of harsh verbal attacks on Obama’s foreign policy.

Chances are that Kerry will avoid making any remarks that could be interpreted as an apology to Japan out of fears that such a comment could have a political impact on the election.

But we nevertheless welcome Kerry’s decision to stand in front of the cenotaph in Hiroshima. We urge Obama to give serious consideration to visiting the cities as well.

Even after seven decades, there are still many people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki who lost loved ones in the bombings and are suffering form health problems caused by radiation exposure.

Because they have a strong desire not to see anyone suffer the same fate, people in the two cities are pinning great hopes on the visits by Kerry and other political leaders.

We are eager to see people in countries with nuclear arsenals think seriously about ways to bring the world closer toward a future without nuclear weapons, something that Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been praying for so strongly and for so long.

The G-7 foreign ministers’ visits to Hiroshima should not be allowed to end up as mere ritual. They should be a first step in effective efforts to create new momentum in international politics for realizing that goal.

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