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Shinzo Abe to become first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor

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Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters following a meeting with President-elect Donald Trump November 17, 2016 in New York City. Trump and his transition team are in the process of filling cabinet and other high level positions for the new administration. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced on Monday he would visit Pearl Harbor in late December with US President Barack Obama, just over 75 years after Japan‘s attack in 1941.

He will be the first Japanese leader to visit the area since the end of World War II.

Speaking to reporters on Monday evening, Abe implied the visit was in return for Obama visiting Hiroshima earlier this year.

“President Obama’s message for the world without nuclear upon his visit to Hiroshima was engraved in the heart of the Japanese people,” he said.

“I will visit Pearl Harbor with President Obama. This will be a visit to soothe the souls of the victims. We should never repeat the ravages of the war.”

The surprise attack on December 7, 1941, killed more than two thousand Americans and triggered the entry of the US into World War II.

The announcement coincides with the 75th anniversary of the battle on Wednesday.

A ‘significant’ gesture from Japan

Speaking to CNN, Tokyo-based Asia Strategy Founder Keith Henry said it was an “enormous” symbolic gesture on Japan’s part.

“It’s quite significant — like so many things in any nation’s past, a recognition of (its) occurrence is the first step in terms of creating something new to ensure it never happens again,” he said.

Henry said the US-Japan relationship was the “lynch-pin” of peace in the Asia region and Abe’s move towards reconciliation was an acknowledgment of that.

“The security of both countries is very much tied together, because Asia is a very different place to 20 years ago,” he said.

Although Abe will be the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor he won’t be the first member of his family to do so. His wife Akie Abe made a surprise visit in August, 2016, to pay tribute.

Obama’s historic visit

In May, President Obama became the first sitting US President to visit Hiroshima, where the US dropped a nuclear bomb killing more than 100,000 Japanese men, women and children, among others.

Writing in the museum’s guest book, Obama called for a “world without nuclear weapons.”

“Why do we come to this place, to Hiroshima? We come to ponder the terrible forces unleashed in the not so distant past,” the President said in a speech on the day.

“We come to mourn the dead … their souls speak to us and ask us to look inward. To take stock of who we are and what we might become.”

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