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Updated: November 8, 2010 16:01 IST

Obama skips Peace Prize winners' meeting in Japan

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U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint press conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (unseen) at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PTI.
U.S. President Barack Obama addresses a joint press conference with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (unseen) at Hyderabad House in New Delhi on Monday. Photo: PTI.

President Barack Obama has declined an invitation to a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize winners on nuclear weapons that is taking place later this week in Hiroshima, when he will be in the country to attend a summit of Asian leaders.

Five Nobel peace laureates had written a letter calling on Mr. Obama to visit Hiroshima in south-western Japan to re—energize his call for a world without nuclear arms, asking him to make the opening address on Friday.

A U.S. official said in a letter seen by The Associated Press that Mr. Obama would not be attending. The letter did not give a reason for the no—show, but praised the meeting’s efforts to abolish nuclear weapons.

Organizers say this year’s meeting of Nobel laureates will have special significance in the city that, with Nagasaki, suffered atomic bombing during the closing days of World War II.

A visit to Hiroshima, which the U.S. bombed in 1945, killing about 140,000 people, would be unprecedented for a sitting U.S. president and would be highly controversial. Many Japanese feel the bombing was an unjustified use of excessive force, while many in America believe it saved countless lives by forcing Japan to surrender.

The annual meeting brings Nobel laureates together to bring attention to their achievements and work, as well as push the overall message of human rights and nonviolence. Mr. Obama won the Peace Prize in 2009.

This year’s gathering that begins on Friday, with Hiroshima Mayor Tadatoshi Akiba playing host, will look at the devastation of nuclear weapons and pick up the challenge of nuclear non—proliferation, organizers say. Previous meetings were held in Rome, Berlin and Paris.

The letter to Mr. Obama was signed by former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, Lech Walesa of Poland, former South African President Frederik Willem de Klerk, East Timorese President Jose Ramos—Horta and former Costa Rican President Oscar Arias Sanchez. All five are due to attend the meeting.

The attendees are also expected to press for the freedom of their fellow laureates, this year’s winner, Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and Myanmar’s detained pro—democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

Hiroshima’s governor received a letter dated Octber 26, from Kurt Campbell, the U.S. State Department’s top Asia policy official, saying Mr. Obama won’t be attending, city and prefectural officials said on Monday.

“It is with regret that President Obama will not be able to attend,” Mr. Campbell said in the letter to Gov. Hidehiko Yuzaki that arrived on Thursday. “Your overwhelming resolution to lead the world towards a nuclear weapons free world advances President Obama’s vision to make the world a safer place.”

Mr. Yuzaki and Mr. Akiba sent an invitation to Mr. Obama in September, praising his work towards the abolition of nuclear weapons.

Mr. Obama is due to attend the Asia—Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Yokohama, near Tokyo, 400 miles (650 kilometers) from Hiroshima, on Saturday and Sunday.

Mr. Obama is now on a tour of Asia, visiting India, Indonesia, South Korea and Japan.

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