Interview with Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary of U.S. State Department: “Deep human sympathy”

Gottemoeller offers flowers at Cenotaph for A-bomb Victims, hopes to raise interest in ratification of CTBT

by Yumi Kanazaki, Staff Writer

Rose Gottemoeller, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security for the U.S. State Department, granted an exclusive interview to the Chugoku Shimbun on April 11. Ms. Gottemoeller is visiting Hiroshima to take part as a guest in the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) Ministerial Meeting. According to the Hiroshima city government, she is the first Undersecretary of the U.S. State Department to offer flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Ms. Gottemoeller commented, “I felt deep human sympathy” in “a place where many suffered and died.”

As a high-ranking official from the nation that dropped the atomic bombs on Japan, was it a difficult decision for you to visit Hiroshima?
Actually, it was quite an easy decision. It is a great honor to be invited as a guest to join the NPDI meeting. And it will be good to sit down and talk with members of the NPDI in getting ready for the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] PrepCom [which will open in late April].

Is stressing the significance of the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty] to the U.S. Senate also a reason for your visit?
It is a very important reason. I went to the museum and saw the terrible human impact of using nuclear weapons. I hope to raise interest in the CTBT [which bans all nuclear explosions] among Americans.

You offered flowers at the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims and listened to the A-bomb experience of Keiko Ogura. What were your feelings?
I felt deep human sympathy. It is a place where many suffered and died. So I think it’s important to express sympathy and condolence for all those who suffered here in Hiroshima as we express sympathy for everyone who suffered in World War II.

When listening to Keiko Ogura, it struck me that she was such a little girl of 8. The event was obviously something that shaped her whole life. I am a parent of two boys. It really struck me, being a mother myself.

People in Hiroshima hope that President Obama will visit this city. What do you think are the chances of a visit to Hiroshima during his term as president?
His schedule is organized by the White House so I’m afraid I can’t say what the chances might be. But as you know, President Obama has said that he would be honored to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Is he concerned about the reaction from conservatives in the U.S.?
I don’t think so. It’s a scheduling matter, I’m sure.

What will you tell President Obama about your visit to Hiroshima?
I will have some substantive matters to discuss. I will have an opportunity to share my meeting with your foreign minister [Fumio Kishida], which is a great honor for me. I will also have an opportunity to describe the deeply impressive experience of going to Peace Memorial Park.

Civil society and some national governments have begun pursuing a path toward negotiations for a nuclear weapons convention by discussing the humanitarian dimension of nuclear arms. What is the U.S. stance?
We have our partners in civil society. But I feel they don’t know enough about the very practical progress we’ve actually made with our step by step approach to nuclear disarmament. We have a far smaller number of weapons now [than during the height of the Cold War]. We need to tell our story better. We are never working hard enough, I do admit that. But we are working very hard to rid the world of nuclear weapons. The president continues to be very, very committed to this goal.

The third conference on the humanitarian consequences of nuclear weapons will be held in Austria this autumn. Will you consider taking part in the conference?
We have been very interested in the way we could use the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons use as a way to really educate people. This is why my visit to the museum today was so valuable. You can really understand the terrible impact on human health, the economy, and the environment. We would like to work with the Austrian government to make the conference a real opportunity for education. If we are able to make this point clear, I think we would consider coming to the conference.

(Originally published on April 12, 2014)