Secretary of State John Kerry’s arrival to Hiroshima for a G7 meeting with his foreign counterparts marks the first visit by a U.S. secretary of state to the city, where the U.S. became the only country to use a nuclear weapon during World War II.
Looming over the two days of talks between Kerry and other G7 foreign ministers is the location itself, which was devastated when the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on the city in August 1945. The bomb, which led to the end of World War II, killed 140,000 people.
Three days later, the U.S. dropped a second bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 70,000 people.
But a senior State Department official traveling with Kerry said America’s top diplomat will not issue an apology for its use of nuclear weapons and the devastation it causes.
“If you are asking whether the secretary of state came to Hiroshima to apologize, the answer is no,” the official said. “If you are asking whether the secretary – and I think all Americans and all Japanese – are filled with sorrow at the tragedies that befell so many of our countrymen, the answer is yes.”
Kerry, though, did seek to use his visit to “recognize the huge loss of life” that occurred during the war, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Kerry and the other ministers will visit Peace Memorial Park, a World War II memorial and museum that has become a symbol for nuclear disarmament.
“It is also an acknowledgment that since the end of World War II that the United States and Japan have become the closest of friends and strong allies,” Toner said.
The Japanese government and public hope the location of the summit in Hiroshima will foster better understanding among nations about Japan’s staunch nuclear stance.
Recent comments by Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump proposing arming Japan and South Korea with nuclear weapons have raised eyebrows here in the country.
And Kerry’s trip to Hiroshima could pave the way for President Barack Obama to visit the city next month, when he travels to Japan for the G7 leaders summit. The senior State Department official said the White House had not made a formal decision.
The Group of Seven (G7) industrialized countries – in addition to the U.S. – includes Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.
The Syrian civil war, the migrant crisis facing Europe and violence in Ukraine were some of the topics discussed during the first day of talks, aides traveling with Kerry said.
Kerry also led a discussion about the political chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan, after having visited both countries this week. The fight against ISIS also dominated the discussions. Some of the European members are grappling with security challenges in the aftermath of recent terrorist attacks in Brussels and Paris.
But Japan hopes to highlight pressing concerns in Asia, including China’s activities in the South China Sea and the North Korean nuclear threat.
On Sunday, Kerry and the other ministers paid a visit to the seaside Itsukushima shrine that dates to the late sixth century, one of Japan’s most well-known cultural sites.