TOKYO - A speech and a Nobel prize have raised hopes in Japan that Barack Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Hiroshima or Nagasaki, the two cities devastated by US atomic bombs in World War II.
Past presidents have avoided a visit that could raise controversy at home, and US officials say it is highly unlikely Obama will travel to either city during a two-day stop in Japan next month.
Yesterday, the mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki went to the US Embassy in Tokyo to formally invite Obama to their cities before a UN review of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty next May.
Sunao Tsuboi, an 84-year-old who survived the Hiroshima bombing despite severe burns, is part of a growing chorus of survivors, student groups, and newspaper editorials urging Obama to come.
“Obama has a vision for humanity. . . . We want to show him our support,’’ said Tsuboi, who has campaigned for the elimination of nuclear weapons and is cochairman of a nationwide organization for atomic bomb survivors.
“I’m a victim, and I’ve overcome,’’ he said. “We want to join with President Obama to create a peaceful world.’’
Obama has not suggested he would make a visit, but stoked Japanese hopes with an April speech in Prague calling for a world free of nuclear weapons. Winning the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month further heightened expectations.
A visit to either city would be a treacherous political minefield for any US president. Signs of sympathy toward Japanese suffering could be seen as criticism of the decision to drop the bombs, viewed among many Americans as a pragmatic decision to hasten the end of the war.