SHIMA, Japan — Laying bare the complex politics of reconciliation and contrition, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday rejected the idea of visiting Pearl Harbor to reciprocate for President Barack Obama's historic trip to Hiroshima later this week. Obama, for his part, said he would use his time in Hiroshima to honor all those killed in World War II and to push for a world without nuclear weapons.
The White House made clear well in advance of Obama's arrival in Japan that the president would not apologize for the U.S. bombing on Aug. 6, 1945, that killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima and launched the nuclear age.
Abe, who met with Obama before the opening of a two-day summit of wealthy nations, was asked to reflect on the significance of the president's trip to Hiroshima and whether he would in turn visit Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, where a surprise attack by the Japanese military on Dec. 7, 1941, killed more than 2,400 people, wounded scores and led the United States into the war.
Abe spoke first of the suffering of the Japanese people: "Numerous citizens sacrificed their lives. And even now, there are those of us suffering because of the atomic bombing," he said. Their desire, he added, is for the world "never to repeat" such a tragedy, and he expressed hope that Obama's visit would lend momentum to the goal of a nuclear-free world.
As for a visit to Pearl Harbor, Abe said: "At this moment I don't have any specific plan to visit Hawaii."
The two leaders' remarks made clear the sensitivities still attached to both countries' wartime actions, and previewed the strong emotions that will be attached to Obama's trip to Hiroshima on Friday, when he will be the first sitting president to pay his respects.
In Japan, Pearl Harbor is not seen as a parallel for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and then Nagasaki three days later, but as an attack on a military installation that did not target civilians.