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Politics

How Kennedy and Clinton figure into Obama's Hiroshima decision

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President Barack Obama listens to remarks at the University of Chicago Law School in Chicago, Illinois, on April 7.   © Reuters

HIROSHIMA, Japan -- The world is waiting to see if U.S. President Barack Obama late next month will visit this city that has recovered from an atomic bombing. Obama will be in Japan then for the Group of Seven summit in Ise-Shima, Mie Prefecture.

     The Obama administration is looking into the possibility of the president visiting Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, a monument to the world's first nuclear attack, which came 71 years ago.

     He would be the first sitting U.S. president to do so.

     Obama could be swayed one way or the other by U.S. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy or Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton.

    On Monday, John Kerry became the first U.S. secretary of state to pay an official visit to the park. He spoke to reporters at the international conference center there as Kennedy listened in.

     When asked about whether there is a 50% or more chance of Obama following him to Hiroshima, Kerry responded in a joking manner, saying he wished he could provide an exact percentage figure. Kennedy chuckled at the off-the-cuff remark.

     Behind the scenes, Kennedy helped set the stage for Kerry's visit. Both hail from the state of Massachusetts and have known each other for a long time.

     Kennedy also has suggested that Obama pay a visit, knowing that Kerry would have to pave the way.

     In late March, Kennedy was in the U.S. and met with Obama at the White House. She reportedly stressed the importance of Kerry first visiting Peace Memorial Park and called on Obama to do the same.

Family legacy

Kennedy herself first visited Hiroshima in 1978 as a student, with her late uncle, former U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.

     Kennedy's father, former President John F. Kennedy, is remembered for his shocking assassination. He is also known for successfully dealing with the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, in which he got the Soviet Union to withdraw nuclear missiles from Cuba.

     After the crisis, President Kennedy started advocating for the reduction of nuclear arms. In June 1963, months before his assassination, he delivered a commencement address at American University, in Washington, D.C. He concluded the speech by saying, "Confident and unafraid, we labor on -- not toward a strategy of annihilation but toward a strategy of peace."

     In January 2008, American University was the venue where Caroline Kennedy gave her endorsement to Barack Obama, who was running against Clinton to be the Democrats' presidential candidate. The endorsement provided impetus for Obama, who at the time was the underdog to Clinton.

     In following in her father's footsteps regarding nuclear disarmament, Kennedy was able to form a close bond with Obama, who, like Kennedy's father, is also arguing for "a world without nuclear weapons."

     As ambassador, Kennedy has attended memorial ceremonies in both Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So it seems natural that she would lobby Obama to visit Hiroshima during his presidency.

Hillary

If Kennedy is whispering in one of Obama's ears, Clinton could be whispering in the other. Clinton is the Democratic establishment's choice as its presidential nominee this year. 

    This election cycle -- the primaries end in June and Americans will vote for their next president in November -- must loom large as Obama weighs whether to visit Hiroshima.

     It is likely a major reason why Obama has yet to announce a decision on the matter.

     He does not want to do anything that could end up, by association, raising the disapproval rating of a politician who has vowed to carry on his policies.

     And visiting Hiroshima could do just that. Many Americans still see the atomic bombings as having ended a long and horrific war. This is particularly true among veterans, who might heave scorn at Obama were he to visit Hiroshima.

     If Obama does make the trip, the Republican Party would likely pounce on it to sway veterans to their side. The party's own presidential candidates, including front-runner Donald Trump, would likely paint Obama and the Democrats as weak apologists.

     Given the political implications, Obama appears to be hoping that Americans quickly embrace a future-oriented mindset that is committed to nuclear disarmament.

     Josh Earnest, White House press secretary, told reporters on Tuesday that, "symbolically, there's no more powerful illustration of that commitment than the city that contained the victims of the first use of that weapon." He mentioned Obama's pursuit of "a world without nuclear weapons" in connection with Hiroshima and officially noted that the president is studying the possibility of a visit.

     It has been seven years since Obama made a renowned speech in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic, where he reiterated the importance of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. "As a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," he said in the speech.

     The G-7 summit kicks off in a little more than a month, and time is now running out on Obama to act. Will he decide to take a step toward cementing a political legacy that goes all the way back to 1962 and Caroline Kennedy's father? Or will he decide to keep from possibly impeding Hillary Clinton's political future?

     The entire world is watching.

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