(CNSNews.com) – President Obama has said he will not offer an apology when visiting Hiroshima this week, but his trip to Japan began on an awkward note and expressions of regret, after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe opened a press appearance by sternly lecturing him over a murder allegedly perpetrated by a former U.S. Marine on Okinawa.
Abe began his televised comments by saying the case in Okinawa had taken up “the entire time” of a small group discussion during his talks with Obama.
“I feel profound resentment against this self-centered and absolutely despicable crime,” he declared through a translator, adding that the incident had shocked not just the southern island but all of Japan.
“I conveyed to the president that such feelings of Japanese people should be sincerely taken to heart,” Abe continued alongside an apparently uncomfortable Obama. “I also urged the United States to make sure to take effective and thorough means to prevent a recurrence, and vigorously and strictly address the situation.”
Abe also said confidence in the process of American forces’ realignment on Okinawa – which is home to more than half of the 47,000 U.S. military personnel in Japan – had been “lost” as a result of the killing, predicting “a tough and challenging road ahead of us as we seek to regain confidence.”
In his response Obama briefly addressed the Okinawa case, but reprised his remarks by stressing the importance of a bilateral alliance which he said has “helped to fortify peace and security throughout the region.”
He then said he had expressed to the prime minister his “sincerest condolences and deepest regrets” over the incident – the killing of a 20-year-old Japanese woman on the island.
Obama gave assurances that the U.S. would continue to cooperate with the investigation and ensure justice is done under Japan’s legal system.
The first question to the two leaders was from a Japanese reporter who asked about the Okinawa incident. Her lengthy question included a reference to a notorious 1995 rape by three U.S. Marines that sparked massive protests and calls to eject U.S. troops from Japan.
Replying, Abe repeated that he feels “profound resentment” about the recent killing, which he described a second time as a “self-centered and absolutely despicable crime.”
“When thinking of fear and real disappointment of this victim, I am just speechless,” he said.
The first question to Obama dealt with unrelated issues, but before he addressed them the president returned to the Okinawa case.
“I want to emphasize that the United States is appalled by any violent crime that may have occurred or been carried out by any U.S. personnel or U.S. contractors. We consider it inexcusable,” he said.
Obama pointed out that the Status of Forces Agreement governing U.S. military forces’ status in Japan in no way prevents justice being carried out under Japan’s legal system and added that the U.S. would cooperate fulling.
“We want to see a crime like this prosecuted here the same way that we would feel horrified and want to provide a sense of justice to a victim’s family back in the United States.”
According to Japanese police, former U.S. Marine Kenneth Franklin Shinzato was arrested last week and confessed to the rape and murder of 20-year-old Rina Shimabukuro who went missing late last month.
News of his arrest prompted angry protests outside a Marine facility on the island, with many demanding the removal of U.S. bases.
Abe: No plans to visit Pearl Harbor ‘at this moment’
Obama is visiting Japan for a G7 summit on Thursday and Friday, although his plan to visit Hiroshima is likely to draw greater attention.
The Hiroshima Peace Memorial commemorates the dropping by the U.S. of an atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki three days later. The first and thus far only use of the deadly weapons in conflict led within days to Japan’s surrender and the end of World War II.
The White House said ahead of the visit – the first by an American president – that Obama would neither “revisit the decision to bomb Hiroshima” nor apologize for it.
During Wednesday’s press appearance, Obama said his visit “will honor all those who were lost in World War II and reaffirm our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons, as well as highlight the extraordinary alliance that we have been able to forge over these many decades.”
Abe voiced the expectation that the visit would “no doubt create further powerful momentum towards realizing a world free of nuclear weapons.”
Asked whether he intended to visit Pearl Harbor, Abe said he had no “specific plan” to do so “at this moment.”
But he recalled that during an address to the U.S. Congress last year he had “sincerely reflected on the past and expressed my sincere sense and also I highlighted the fact that former adversaries are now transforming into the relationship of allies.”
He had also visited the World War II memorial in Washington, “where I laid a wreath to pray for the souls of all the war dead.”
No Japanese prime minister has visited Pearl Harbor, where Imperial Japan’s surprise attack on the U.S. naval base on Dec. 7, 1941 cost more than 2,400 American lives and led to the nation’s entry into World War II.
In a recent commentary Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Bruce Klingner raised the point.
“Obama may not apologize for America’s wartime use of atomic weapons, and that’s good, but coming without a preliminary visit by the Japanese prime minister to Pearl Harbor, Obama’s trip will appear to affirm the oft-expressed Japanese view of itself as victim due to its unique status as the only country to have suffered an atomic attack,” Klingner wrote.
“Focusing the visit on the “evils” of nuclear weapons will only contribute to this dynamic.”