August 7, 2015 1:30 am JST
Last big decision?

Obama's dilemma on Hiroshima visit

NAOYA YOSHINO, Nikkei staff writer

President Obama faces a tough question: legacy or politics.

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama has an opportunity to leave a lasting mark on his push for "a world without nuclear weapons" by visiting Hiroshima next year, but it comes with a myriad of complications, including bringing potential adversity on Democrats seeking the presidency in 2016.

     Secretary of State John Kerry is now considering visiting Peace Memorial Park when he goes to Hiroshima for a Group of Seven foreign ministers meeting in April. He would be the first U.S. cabinet member to do so.

     Obama, scheduled to attend the G-7 summit at the end of May in Mie Prefecture, could do the same. He is in a position to build his legacy as next year is his last in office. But a potential backlash from war veterans, a strong voting bloc, could ripple through Congress and hurt candidates from his Democratic Party.

     Obama's visit to the memorial just one and a half months after Kerry could raise the ire of those against the gesture. A Democratic Party official questioned the necessity of Obama visiting Hiroshima as president.

More complications

There are more issues to consider. Some Americans insist that a Hiroshima visit by a U.S. president should be coupled with a visit to Pearl Harbor by the Japanese prime minister. Shinzo Abe did not visit the historic site when he came to the U.S. in April, despite speculation that he might.

     China may try to interfere with Obama's visit, too. When Japan sought to include a statement in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty urging world leaders to visit areas affected by atomic bombs, China vehemently opposed the motion, which did not make it to the final draft.

     But the Japanese side has high hopes that Obama will come to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the other city where an atomic bomb was dropped. Abe and Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida on Thursday urged political leaders around the world to visit the cities when they come to Japan for the summit.

     An April survey conducted by a U.S. polling organization shows that 56% of Americans believe that dropping the nuclear bombs was justifiable, while 79% of Japanese said it was not.

     Obama would be unlikely to offer an open apology for the bombing were he to visit Hiroshima, but Kishida wrote in an opinion piece, published on the CNN website Wednesday, that visits to Hiroshima and Nagasaki "would act as a powerful force for nuclear disarmament."

     Obama's diplomacy has a track record of a strong focus on domestic politics. For instance, he ordered airstrikes against the Islamic State radicals in Iraq and Syria out of concern that inaction could give momentum to the Republican Party.

     All eyes are on his ultimate decision, which, according to a U.S. official, could be made after observing the public's response to Kerry's visit to Hiroshima.

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