HIROSHIMA, Japan — Secretary of State John Kerry visited the revered memorial to Hiroshima's atomic bombing today, delivering a message of peace and hope for a nuclear-free world seven decades after the United States used the weapon for the first time in history and killed 140,000 Japanese.
Kerry became the most senior American official to travel to the city, touring its peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and laying a wreath at the adjoining park's stone-arched monument, the exposed steel beams of Hiroshima's iconic A-Bomb Dome in the distance.
The otherwise somber occasion was lifted by the presence of about 800 Japanese waving flags of the G-7 nations, including that of the United States.
Kerry didn't speak publicly at the ceremony, though could be seen with his arm around Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a Hiroshima native, and whispering in his ear.
"Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial," Kerry wrote in the museum's guest book. "It is a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself."
Kerry's appearance completed an evolution for the United States, whose leaders avoided the city for many years because of political sensitivities.
No serving U.S. president has visited the site, and it took 65 years for a U.S. ambassador to attend Hiroshima's annual memorial service. Many Americans believe the dropping of atomic bombs here on Aug. 6, 1945, and on the Japanese city of Nagasaki three days later were justified and hastened the end of the war.
Japanese survivors' groups have campaigned for decades to bring leaders from the United States and other nuclear powers to see Hiroshima's scars as part of a grass roots movement to abolish nuclear weapons.
President Barack Obama may travel to Hiroshima next month. He hasn't made a final decision about visiting the city and its memorial when he attends a G-7 meeting of leaders in central Japan in late May, a senior U.S. official traveling with Kerry said.