President Obama is heading to Japan later this month, a trip that has the White House weighing whether he’ll visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki, places where the United States dropped atomic bombs during World War II.
The trip to the Group of 7 (G7) meeting for leaders of major industrialized nations would mark Obama's fourth visit to Japan. No American president has visited Hiroshima or Nagasaki in the 71 years since the attacks because of concerns the trip would be perceived as an apology for the two bombings that helped bring an end to World War II.
The White House says the president's itinerary will be announced soon.
"The symbol of Hiroshima is the significant and even, in some ways, tragic ability that mankind has to wreak terrible destruction," Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said at a briefing last month, adding that Obama’s goal of a world without nuclear weapons can be illustrated through the two cities.
"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 said.
Should the US Apologize to Japan?
Asked directly during last month’s briefing whether the president believes the Japanese government deserves a formal apology about the attacks, Earnest said bluntly: "No, he does not."
Obama’s calculation on whether to pay respects to the country has some members of Congress taking notice. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., a third-generation Japanese-American, is urging Obama to make the historic visit to Hiroshima.
"A visit to Hiroshima is not an apology on America’s behalf," Takano said last month during a speech on the House floor. "It is a signal that the commander of the world’s largest arsenal of nuclear weapons appreciates their power, and it sets an example for other world leaders to follow."
What Do Obama’s Critics Say?
Obama has faced backlash from those who claim he is too eager to lend a sympathetic ear to complaints from foreign countries or officials about past U.S. policies and actions.
During the 2012 presidential campaign, Republican candidate Mitt Romney accused Obama of taking “an apology tour” upon entering office as part of his argument that the president was weak on foreign policy.
Many of the president’s opponents say a trip to Hiroshima and Nagasaki would be inappropriate and would be viewed symbolically as an apology.
Tensions over the history between Japan and the United States was on display in 2009 when Obama was criticized for bowing at a meeting with Japan’s emperor. The administration said at the time that it was a matter of protocol and way to show respect.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney was among the critics of the bow, saying in a 2009 radio interview that it was "very upsetting" and that it could be viewed by adversaries as a “sign of weakness.”
Some pro-Japanese activists are awaiting word on Obama’s trip and have demanded an apology from the United States.
Has the US Recently Addressed the Attacks?
Secretary of State John Kerry attended a memorial ceremony in Hiroshima in April, becoming the highest ranking U.S. official to visit the site.
"Everyone should visit Hiroshima, and everyone means everyone," Kerry said following the visit when asked whether Obama would visit. He added that "whether or not he can come as president, I don’t know."
In his 2009 visit, the president hinted at a potential visit one day.
"The memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are etched in the minds of the world, and I would be honored to have the opportunity to visit those cities at some point during my presidency," Obama said following a meeting with then-Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama while in Japan.
Prior to the 2009 Japan trip, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki visited the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo to invite Obama to visit their cities.