Kerry in Japan for landmark Hiroshima visit

AFP , Sunday 10 Apr 2016

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini (clockwise from bottom left), Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion, Britain's Foreign Minister Philip Hammond, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Japan's Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Germany's Foreign Ministry Political Director Andreas Michaelis, Italy's Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni and France's Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault participate in the first working session of the G7 foreign minister meetings in Hiroshima, Japan April 10, 2016. (REUTERS)

G7 foreign ministers on Sunday began two days of talks in Hiroshima, with John Kerry's visit to the atom-bombed city -- the first-ever by a US secretary of state -- overshadowing the broader agenda.

Kerry's landmark trip is seen as possibly paving the way for Barack Obama to become the first serving US president to journey to the thriving metropolis next month, when he visits Japan for the Group of Seven summit.

The Hiroshima meeting also includes top diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy, host Japan and the European Union.

It is part of the run-up to the G7's rotating annual summit, scheduled this year from May 26-27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka.

Kerry arrived earlier Sunday at a US military base west of Hiroshima. He flew from Afghanistan after earlier stops in Iraq and Bahrain.

The US secretary of state, Britain's Philip Hammond, France's Jean-Marc Ayrault and other ministers were discussing issues including the Middle East, the refugee crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and global terrorism.

Host Japan also hopes to highlight other concerns, such as rising territorial tensions in the South China Sea where China and some Southeast Asian nations have clashed, and North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling.

But what has captured the imagination of the Japanese public is the location. They hope it will promote greater understanding of Japan's staunch anti-nuclear stance as the only country to suffer atomic attack.

Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, also hopes to issue a "Hiroshima Declaration" at the meeting to promote nuclear disarmament.

"On this occasion, I want to send a strong message for peace and to realise a world free of nuclear weapons," Kishida said at a welcome reception.

Kerry and the other ministers are scheduled to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the blast, and an accompanying museum.

The first American bomb on August 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, including survivors of the explosion who died afterwards from severe radiation exposure. Three days later another blast killed some 74,000 people in Nagasaki.

Japan gave up the fight six days after Nagasaki, forswearing militarism and reinventing itself as an economic dynamo -- protected, ironically, by the nuclear-armed United States.

When asked about its place under Washington's nuclear umbrella, Kishida said ahead of the meeting that Japan is aware of the world's security realities, citing North Korea as a key threat.

Washington hopes to use Kerry's visit -- he will be the highest-ranking US official in Hiroshima since then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008 -- to stress the tragedy of the war and highlight Obama's anti-nuclear stance, expressed in a famous speech in Prague in 2009.

"We can never separate disarmament from the global security environment or strategic stability considerations, or divorce it from our security commitments to friends and allies," Kerry said in a written interview with the Hiroshima-based Chugoku Shimbun newspaper.

"Progress on nuclear disarmament must be made in a way that reduces nuclear and security risks for ourselves, our allies and all humankind."

American tourist James Huddleston, visiting the memorial park with his wife and three children, said Kerry's visit was good for both the US and Japan.

"It's important," said the 36-year-old sales manager from Detroit.

"(This is) is a big part of the history of both countries."

Hiroshima resident Tatsumi Yamasaki, 78, said a visit by Obama would speak volumes.

"That act itself would mean a lot for people in Hiroshima," he said.

However, a small group of about 30 protesters gathered in front of the atomic dome on Sunday to condemn the G7's attitude and any Obama visit.

"They came all the way to Hiroshima to say they would get rid of nuclear weapons -- it's all lies," said Kyoko Taniguchi, one of the organisers.

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