Hiroshima voices high hopes for Obama stance on nuclear weapons

by Hiromi Morita, Kyosuke Mizukawa and Kohei Okata, Staff Writers

In his high-profile inaugural address, which drew listeners from around the world, President Obama pledged to “work tirelessly to lessen the nuclear threat,” adding that “America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.” The speech has raised the hopes of A-bomb survivors’ organizations and the citizens of Hiroshima for a possible change in U.S. nuclear policy.

Sunao Tsuboi, chairman of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, sat up until the early morning hours to hear Mr. Obama’s address. “I could sense his willingness to emphasize dialogue and dedicated effort, a stance contrary to that of the Bush administration,” said Mr. Tsuboi. “Even in a short speech, the new president touched on the nuclear issue. This fact demonstrates his sincere regard for the issue.”

Kazushi Kaneko, chairman of another faction of the Hiroshima Prefectural Confederation of A-bomb Sufferers Organizations, said, “Though it may take a long while to realize, I hope the new president will promote the abolition of nuclear weapons at a steady pace.” Seven A-bomb survivors’ organizations, including these two groups, will soon send a joint letter to President Obama, calling on him to visit Hiroshima.

The secretary general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations, Terumi Tanaka, also expressed optimism, believing that Mr. Obama’s intention to “lessen the nuclear threat” implies that the five nuclear powers, including the United States, will reduce their nuclear arsenals. Mr. Tanaka plans to send an appeal through the U.S. embassy asking that the new president meet with A-bomb survivors, adding, “Meeting A-bomb survivors in person can strengthen his convictions on this issue.”

Prior to taking office, President Obama promised to make the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons a central element of his nuclear policy, expressing support for the early ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and a stop to any new production of nuclear weapons. Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba commented, “My expectations are now higher for a change in U.S. nuclear policy.”

In his inaugural speech, however, the new president did not disclose any specific measures which might lead to the abolition of nuclear weapons. Haruko Moritaki, co-chair of the Hiroshima Alliance for Nuclear Weapons Abolition, pointed out, “I can’t hold unrealistic expectations of the new president, but he bears a responsibility to the world to promote measures for nuclear disarmament since he clearly stated such an intention during his presidential campaign.”

In Peace Memorial Park, the voices of Hiroshima citizens are more eager than ever to convey messages of peace. Kosei Mito, 63, a former high school English teacher who has served as a guide for over 30,000 visitors to the city, said, “My commitment to relate the consequences of the atomic bombing is now, in a sense, intended to help boost the determination of the new president.” And Yasushi Tsuji, 66, a peace volunteer at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, said with a twinkle in his eye, “I hope that one day, speaking English, I will escort President Obama around the museum.”

Hiroshi Oshima, currently a professor at Hiroshima Shudo University, interviewed Mr. Obama when he worked for Kyodo News as a reporter. Mr. Oshima analyzed the address and said, “If the people of Hiroshima, transcending nationality, can appeal to the president’s heart, it is conceivable that he might visit the A-bombed city.”

(Originally published on January 22, 2009)

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