john kerry hiroshimaUS Secretary of State John Kerry visited Japan’s revered Hiroshima memorial, that marks the US atomic bombings during the second World War, on Monday, becoming the first Secretary of State to visit the site.

Kerry became the most senior American official to travel to the city, touring its peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and laying a wreath at the adjoining park’s stone-arched monument, the exposed steel beams of Hiroshima’s iconic A-Bomb Dome in the distance.

The ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States then laid wreaths at a cenotaph to the victims of the Aug. 6, 1945 bombing, which reduced the city to ashes and killed some 140,000 people by the end of that year.

Kerry didn’t speak publicly at the ceremony, though could be seen with his arm around Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a Hiroshima native, and whispering in his ear. The ministers departed with origami cranes in their respective national colors around their neck, Kerry draped in red, white and blue.

“Everyone in the world should see and feel the power of this memorial,” Kerry wrote in the museum’s guest book. “It is a stark, harsh, compelling reminder not only of our obligation to end the threat of nuclear weapons, but to rededicate all our effort to avoid war itself.”

“War must be the last resort; never the first choice”, he added. “This memorial compels us all to redouble our efforts to change the world, to find peace and build the future so yearned for by citizens everywhere.”

Kerry’s appearance, just footsteps away from Ground Zero, completed an evolution for the United States, whose leaders avoided the city for many years because of political sensitivities.

After a moment of silence by the ministers, Japanese school children presented them with lei’s made of paper cranes, symbolising peace, in each country’s national colours.

At Kerry’s suggestion, the ministers also made an impromptu visit to the Atomic Bomb Dome, the remains of the only structure left standing near the hypocentre of the bomb explosion and now a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Three days after a US warplane dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945. Japan surrendered six days later.

Kerry’s trip could pave the way for an unprecedented visit to Hiroshima by a sitting US president when Obama attends the annual G7 leaders summit in another Japanese city next month.

Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, also hopes to issue a “Hiroshima Declaration” at the meeting to promote nuclear disarmament.

When asked about its place under Washington’s nuclear umbrella, Kishida said Japan knows the world’s security realities, citing North Korea, for example, as a key threat.

(With agencies input)