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Exclusive Interview with President Obama
WorldSunday, May 22

Exclusive Interview with President Obama

Q - Thank you very much, Mr. President for talking with us today. What do you expect from this trip - your fourth to Japan?

A - Well, the main purpose of the visit is the G7 meeting, and the G7 has been an excellent forum for us to discuss a wide variety of global issues with some of our closest friends and allies. And, Prime Minister Abe is hosting this year. I think he believes, as I do, that we all have to work together to increase global growth, that as democracies, we have to support international law and rules around the world. I'm sure we'll also have an occasion also to discuss regional hotspots like the Middle East and the South China Sea, the issue of North Korea and nuclear proliferation. And we'll also have an opportunity to discuss our common goals for international development - how we can encourage the education of women and girls, and get them more economic opportunity. How we can work together to promote global health because in today's environment, where people travel around the world so frequently, a disease that happens in a very poor country somewhere that does not have a good healthcare system can spread very rapidly, as we saw with Ebola, and Zika, and SARS, other diseases. So, we'll have a busy agenda, but it is a wonderful opportunity, also, for me to reaffirm the incredibly strong alliance between the United States and Japan, one of the cornerstones of our security, and one that has helped to create the kind of peace and prosperity and security for both countries that we've enjoyed for so many decades now.

Q - Looking at the current world economy, what message would you like to deliver from the Ise-Shima Summit?

A - I think it's important for us to recognize that growth depends on all countries taking appropriate steps to encourage job creation, to encourage increased global commerce and increased global trade. One of the most important initiatives that I've taken with Prime Minister Abe has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. And this is an example of both our countries trying to work with the entire Asia-Pacific region to raise standards, raise environmental protection, raise protections that workers have to protect intellectual property. These are all steps that can allow us to trade, on a level playing field, and that's good for American workers, it's good for Japanese workers, it's good for our economy as a whole. What we have to do is guard against each country trying to take steps that will in the short term advantage one country but in the long term will make it more difficult for the entire region, and the entire world to grow.

Q - Your historic decision to visit Hiroshima has been welcomed in Japan. Why have you decided to go to Hiroshima now? What is the purpose of your visit?

A - I think it's an appropriate time. The G7 will be hosted close to Hiroshima, and the Peace Memorial. When I first visited Japan, I said that this was something that I thought I might be interested in doing. And since I only have a few months left in office, I thought it was a good time for me to reflect on the nature of war. My purpose is not to simply revisit the past, but to affirm that innocent people die in a war, on all sides, that we should do everything we can to try to promote peace and dialogue around the world, that we should continue to strive for a world without nuclear weapons - that is something that I worked on since I first came into office. And, 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. And that should teach us all a lesson about our ability to overcome our differences, to create a better future for our children and our grandchildren. We do that not by ignoring our history but by understanding it, and recognizing it, but then pledging to do better in the future.

Q - In 2009, you said you hope to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki. However, why did it take seven years to make your final decision to go Hiroshima? Were there any obstacles or difficulties?

A - There weren't any obstacles. The President of the United States is a busy guy. And, typically when I travel to a country, I have bilateral meetings, I have summits, I have press interviews...there are always a lot of things taking place. And, so this was the time where I thought it was most appropriate. But, I think that the people of Japan and the people of the United States recognize that out of the ashes of war, and the pain that all sides suffered, that we had the great vision to form an alliance, that we were able to work together to rebuild a world order that has created enormous opportunities for our people. We now face a moment in history where, in many ways, the world has shrunk. We are more interconnected than ever before, more interdependent than ever before. But, that also brings with it new perils, new threats, transnational terrorism, the possibility that terrorist organizations could get their hands on a weapon of mass destruction. And that is why it is so important for us to work together, to feel a sense of urgency about how we can secure those nuclear stockpiles that currently exist. And this is something that Prime Minister Abe has worked with me on along with many other countries through the Nuclear Security Summit process. But it's also something that we have to continue to keep in mind as we try to reduce nuclear stockpiles in the world over time.

Q - Can you tell us what you're going to do in Hiroshima?

A - Well, my expectation is that I will visit the Peace Memorial. I certainly will provide some brief reflections. I think that the memorial itself is such a powerful reminder of the power of nuclear weapons and of war, that I do not expect to provide a very long speech but rather, I think, some very humble reflections about my views on how we can forge a better peace around the world, and how we can use the model of relations between the United States and Japan as an example of how we can move forward. And, my hope is that my visit then opens up other opportunities to work together on a whole range of issues.

Q - Survivors in Hiroshima are very eager to meet you. Are you going to meet any of them?

A - Well, we haven't finalized the agenda so I don't know yet exactly what will happen, but I think it's fair to say that my goal here is to speak to the people of Japan but also the people of the region...the people throughout Asia, the people back here in the United States, people around the world. There are many people who are still suffering from war as we speak. And, part of my goal is to recognize that innocent people caught in a war can suffer tremendously, and that's not just a thing of the past, that is happening today in many parts of the world. And, that we have to think in human terms, as we do everything we can to protect our respective countries. I could not be prouder of the US military, and the force for good that it has been, in providing defense, support for Japan and the Republic of Korea and our other allies for the work it does to help maintain peace and prosperity throughout the Asia-Pacific region. The last time that we had a significant military operation in Japan, it was actually to help Japan recover from the tragedy of Fukushima, and that I think is an example of how I want the outstanding men and women of our Armed Forces to be viewed - as a force for good and working with other countries to protect our collective and common security, and to preserve a common peace.

Q - What message are you going to deliver to the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

A - Well I haven't written my remarks yet. So, in general, as I said, I think you can expect me to speak to the horrors of war in general, to speak to the need for a world without nuclear weapons, and to speak to the US-Japan alliance as an example of how we can move forward.

Q - Do you think an apology will be included?

A - No, because I think that 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, but I know as somebody who has now sat in this position for the last seven and a half years, that every leader makes very difficult decisions, particularly during war time. So I will, I think, emphasize how we can move forward, but also emphasize the fact that, as I said before, people suffer terribly in war, and we need to try to evolve our human responses and our human institutions in a way that emphasizes peace and diplomacy wherever we can.

Q - Looking to the idea of a world without nuclear weapons, how do you evaluate the current situation of nuclear disarmament worldwide?

A - Well, I think that we have made some modest progress in at least not seeing a huge increase in nuclear stockpiles. In the major countries that possess nuclear weapons, I think there's been an emphasis not on building up new weapons. I've tried to negotiate with the Russians, and was able to get, when I first came into office, a START-II treaty that reduced the stockpiles of Russian and US nuclear weapons. I think we can go further but so far Russia has not shown its self interest in doing more. I think the biggest challenge we have right now with respect to nuclear weapons is the dangers of the nuclear program in Pyongyang, in North Korea. And, there has been, I think a continued effort on their provocative. And the international community has shunned them for their behavior, but so far they haven't changed their behavior the way they need to. Part of the reason why that's such a concern is that North Korea also has a history of proliferating nuclear technologies. And, so I think that we still have work to do. North Korea is the worst example, but we also have other parts of the world where you're still seeing the development of new nuclear technologies that could be very dangerous, and it's important for us to recognize that our capabilities today are so enormous already, without any new weapons, that for any country to devote itself to developing additional nuclear stockpiles, when there's so much human need for development, food, healthcare, and education for our children, those are the kinds of investments that we should be encouraging.

Q - Thank you very much, Mr. President.

A - I very much enjoyed it, and I very much look forward to my visit.

Q - We are ready to welcome you to Japan.

A - Thank you.

Q - Thank you very much.