Nobel peace prize winners call on Obama to visit Hiroshima

TOKYO (AP) — Five Nobel peace laureates are calling on President Barack Obama to visit Hiroshima later this year to re-energize his call for a world without nuclear arms, strengthening a drive by the site of the world's first atomic bomb attack to host the U.S. leader.

A visit to Hiroshima, which the U.S. bombed in 1945, killing about 140,000 people and hastening the end of World War II, 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.

Hiroshima is seeking to have Obama join the 11th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, which it will host in November. The White House has said Obama currently has no plans to visit Hiroshima, but he is expected to be in Japan at around that time to attend another summit meeting in Yokohama, just outside Tokyo.

Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.

The letter to 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.

In their letter to Obama, the peace laureates said that they were encouraged by his determination to eliminate nuclear weapons, and urged him to join them in paying respects to those who died in the Aug. 6, 1945, attack.

"There could not be a better venue for such a speech than Hiroshima — nor, perhaps, a more fitting forum than one presented by fellow Nobel Peace Laureates," the letter to Obama said, asking the president to be the keynote speaker.

Organizers of the event were not available for comment on Thursday. The letter signed by the laureates was posted on their website.

Hiroshima's mayor has strongly urged Obama to visit the city. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter visited Hiroshima after leaving office, but no president has traveled there while in office.

This month, U.S. Ambassador John Roos attended the annual memorial ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the bombing, becoming the first U.S. representative to participate in that gathering.