Obama and Abe to meet, discuss military base crime, G7, Hiroshima

World Today

The Japanese national flag flutters at half-mast in the foreground of the atomic bomb dome at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, in western Japan. (REUTERS/Kimimasa Mayama/File Photo)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday ahead of this week’s Group of Seven summit, a Japanese Foreign Ministry source said, with one topic being how to prevent crime by workers from U.S. military bases.

A U.S. civilian working on a base on Okinawa island was arrested last week in connection with the murder of a Japanese woman.

Okinawa, the site of a brutal World War Two battle, hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan and many residents resent what they see as an unfair burden.

Many also associate the bases with crime, pollution and noise. The rape of a Japanese schoolgirl by U.S. military personnel in 1995 sparked huge anti-base demonstrations.

Both governments want to keep the incident from fanning further opposition to an agreement to relocate the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base to a less populous part of Okinawa, a plan first agreed upon after the 1995 rape but opposed by the island’s governor and many residents who want the base off the island entirely.

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the leaders would also discuss the global economy, bilateral ties and other regional and global issues.

Concerns about the health of the global economy will top the agenda at the G7 summit, although full agreement on macro-economic policy looks hard to come by. The G7 groups Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Obama is also set to make a historic visit to Hiroshima, site of the world’s first atomic bombing, on Friday, after attending the G7 summit.

Obama said on Sunday his visit to Hiroshima, the first city to suffer an atomic bombing, would emphasize friendly ties between former enemies, and reiterated he would not apologize for the devastating attack.

Obama will become the first sitting U.S. president to tour the site of the world’s first nuclear bombing this Friday, accompanied by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

In an interview with Japanese national broadcaster NHK, Obama – who emphasized decentralization early in his term – said the reality is that leaders often have to make hard choices during times of conflict and no apologies would be included in brief remarks he is expected to make in the western Japanese city.

“It’s important to recognize that in the midst of war, leaders make all kinds of decisions, it’s a job of historians to ask questions and examine them,” Obama said.

The bomb dropped on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, killed thousands instantly and about 140,000 by the end of the year. Nagasaki was hit on Aug. 9 and Japan surrendered six days later.

A majority of Americans see the bombings as having been necessary to end the war and save U.S. and Japanese lives, although many historians question that view. Most Japanese believe they were unjustified.

Obama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 partly for his stance on nuclear non-proliferation, added that he felt emphasis needed to be placed on the current relationship between Washington, one of Japan’s key allies, and Tokyo.

“I think it is also a happy story about how former adversaries came together to become one of the closest partnerships and closest allies in the world,” he said.

Critics argue that by not apologizing, Obama will allow Japan to stick to the narrative that paints it as a victim.

The Abe administration has affirmed past government apologies for Japanese actions during the war, but asserts that future generations should not have to apologize for the actions of their forebears.

Obama said the visit will be a time to reflect on the harsh toll that war takes at any time.

“Since I only have a few months left in the office, I thought it was a good time for me to reflect on the nature of war. Part of my goal is to recognize that innocent people caught in war can suffer tremendously,” he said.

“And that’s not just the thing of the past. That is happening today in many parts of the world.”

Story by Reuters