By Toshihiko Ogata, roving correspondent in Washington; Taketsugu Sato
Seventy-five years have passed since the Japanese military attacked Pearl Harbor. It was learned that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will visit Pearl Harbor on Dec. 27, had expressed during President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima last May a desire to make the visit. This was disclosed by Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes during an interview with Asahi Shimbun on Dec. 7 (Dec. 8 in Japan).
Rhodes is a close confidant of Obama’s on foreign policy and security issues. He wrote the speech Obama delivered in Hiroshima.
According to Rhodes, Abe showed eagerness to visit Pearl Harbor during Obama’s Hiroshima visit. Rhodes said, “The Prime Minister has indicated his wish to realize a visit to Pearl Harbor each time he met with the President (at international conferences and on other occasions) over the past few months.”
Rhodes said that Abe finally conveyed his decision to Obama when they met at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Peru in November, so the timing of the announcement and schedule of the visit were coordinated.
Rhodes explained that the decisions on the Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor visits were “separated on purpose” to enable Abe and Obama to “make their own decisions.” It is reckoned that care was taken not to give the impression that the two visits are reciprocal.
Touching on the speech Obama will deliver in Pearl Harbor, Rhodes indicated that the President will emphasize the importance of maintaining the Japan-U.S. alliance as the cornerstone of the Asia-Pacific region. Rhodes also said that Abe’s visit to Pearl Harbor “will send out a positive message that history issues should not be an obstacle in building relations with other countries or a reason for continued tension.”
As for the Obama administration’s foreign policy, Rhodes told Asahi that the administration “has been aware
of how sensitive history issues are in Asia. It has urged the concerned countries not to allow these issues to heighten tensions or undermine cooperative relationships.” He also disclosed that President Obama personally prodded Japan and the ROK to reach an agreement on the comfort women issue in December last year.