President Barack Obama on Friday will become the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, the site of the world’s first atomic bombing.
Here’s what he said in Ise-Shima, Japan, about why he’s going:
“I won't characterize how other presidents were thinking about these issues. I can tell you how I'm thinking about it, and that is that the dropping of the atomic bomb, the ushering in of nuclear weapons was an inflection point in modern history. It is something that all of us have had to deal with in one way or another. Obviously, it's not as prominent in people's thinking as it was during the Cold War, at a time when our parents or grandparents were huddling under desks in frequent drills. But the backdrop of a nuclear event remains something that I think presses on the back of our imaginations.
“I do think that part of the reason I'm going is because I want to once again underscore the very real risks that are out there and the sense of urgency that we all should have. So it's not only a reminder of the terrible toll of World War II and the death of innocents across continents, but it's also to remind ourselves that the job is not done in reducing conflict, building institutions of peace, and reducing the prospect of nuclear war in the future.
It's not only a reminder of the terrible toll of World War II and the death of innocents across continents, but it's also to remind ourselves that the job is not done in reducing conflict.
President Barack Obama on visiting Hiroshima
“In some ways, we've seen real progress over the last several years. The Iran nuclear deal is a big piece of business – because without us having to fire a shot, we were able to persuade a big, sophisticated country that had a well-developed nuclear program not to develop nuclear weapons. The START II Treaty that I negotiated in my first couple years in office with the Russians has reduced our respective stockpiles. The Nuclear Security Summit and all the work that we've done on that score has made it less likely that nuclear materials fall into the hand of terrorists or non-state actors.
“And although we have not seen the kind of progress that I would have liked to have seen with respect to North Korea, what we have been able to do is mobilize the international community so that their proliferation activities are scrutinized much more carefully, and they have far fewer countries that are tolerant of potential actions by North Korea outside of their own program.
“Having said that, North Korea is a big worry for all of us. They're not at the point right now where they can effectively hit U.S. targets, but each time that they test – even if those tests fail – they learn something. And it is clear that ideologically they are still convinced that and Kim Jong-un in particular seems to be convinced that his own legitimacy is tied up with developing nuclear weapons.
This is going to be an ongoing task, but it's one that I think we have to be paying a lot of attention to.
President Barack Obama on nuclear weapons
“You pointed out the continuing tensions that exist in South Asia. That is still a concern. And we know that terrorist organizations would have no compunction about using a weapon of mass destruction if they got their hands on it.
“So we've got a lot of work to do. I think we've built up an architecture during the course of my presidency that has made a difference, that has focused attention on some key points of vulnerability. But we're not where we need to be yet. And obviously we haven’t achieved all the goals that I set when I spoke in Prague at the beginning of my presidency. Of course, I noted at the time that I didn’t expect to be able to achieve all those goals during the course of my presidency or even in my lifetime. And this is going to be an ongoing task, but it's one that I think we have to be paying a lot of attention to.”