Barack Obama will this month become the first sitting US president to visit atomic bomb-struck Hiroshima, but the White House said he will not offer an apology for the devastating attack on the Japanese city in 1945.
Obama, accompanied by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, will make the deeply symbolic visit on May 27, after attending a G7 summit in south-central Japan, his spokesman Josh Earnest said Tuesday.
The White House described the trip as an effort to highlight the US “commitment to pursuing the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the world’s first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing around 140,000 people, including those who survived the explosion itself but died soon after from severe radiation exposure.
Three days later, the US military dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing some 74,000 people.
The announcement comes after months of speculation in the US and Japan that the president, a Nobel peace laureate, would make a visit to the city.
The bombings remain controversial in the United States and across the world, with opinion sharply divided on whether their use ended the brutality of World War II and avoided a bloody US invasion of Japan, or whether dropping atomic weapons on civilians constitutes a war crime.
A Pew poll last year showed 56 percent of Americans think the bombing was justified, while 14 percent of Japanese do. In both countries, approval of then US president Harry Truman’s order has waned dramatically over the years.
In Hiroshima, Obama will visit the once ruined city’s Peace Memorial Park “where he will share his reflections on the significance of the site and the events that occurred there,” said senior Obama foreign policy advisor Ben Rhodes.
Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry became the highest ranking US political figure to visit Hiroshima.
Kerry said he was “deeply moved” by the experience and called a museum at the site a “gut-wrenching display that tugs at all your sensibilities as a human being.”
“Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone,” he added, fueling speculation that Obama would go.