President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, shown at a May conference in Japan, will meet again at Pearl Harbor on Tuesday.(Photo: Stephane De Sakutin, AFP/Getty Images)
More than 75 years later, remembrance and reconciliation are the themes as the Japanese prime minister visits Pearl Harbor on Tuesday, the first formal trip by a Japanese leader to the site where the world changed forever.
Both Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Obama will speak at the commemoration of the 1941 Japanese air attack that drew the United States into the Second World War. Abe landed at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for the historic visit on Monday.
Obama and Abe will also meet privately on the state of the U.S.-Japan alliance, one that could undergo stark changes after Donald Trump becomes president next month.
"The two leaders' visit will showcase the power of reconciliation that has turned former adversaries into the closest of allies," the White House said in announcing the visit earlier this month.
Obama and Abe plan to make remarks at the memorial built atop the bombed-out hull of the USS Arizona, which sank to the bottom of the harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
The attack, on what President Franklin D. Roosevelt called "a date which will live in infamy," killed more than 2,400 Americans.
Abe is not expected apologize for the Pearl Harbor attack but is likely to express sympathy for the victims.
On Monday, Abe visited the Ehime Maru Memorial near downtown Honolulu where a U.S. navy submarine, the USS Greeneville, sunk a Japanese fishing vessel, killing nine people in 2001. Hawaii Gov. David Ige and Caroline Kennedy, U.S. ambassador to Japan, were among those who joined Abe at the memorial, the Associated Press reported.
In announcing his visit earlier this month, the Japanese prime minister told reporters: "We must never repeat the horror of war ... I want to express that determination as we look to the future, and at the same time send a message about the value of U.S.-Japanese reconciliation.”
The Obama-Abe meeting also takes place less a month before Obama leaves the White House and Trump enters, a development that will likely affect U.S.-Japanese relations.
During the presidential campaign, Trump talked about changing trade policies worldwide and requiring Japan and other allies to pay more for security assistance.
Abe met with the president-elect face-to-face last month at Trump Tower.
The Obama-Abe meeting in Hawaii is designed "to review our joint efforts over the past four years to strengthen the U.S.-Japan alliance, including our close cooperation on a number of security, economic, and global challenges," said the White House statement.
In many ways, Abe's visit reciprocates Obama's trip earlier this year to Hiroshima, site of the first U.S. atomic attack on Japan that ended the war in 1945.
Trump weighed in on that May trip, tweeting at the time: "Does President Obama ever discuss the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor while he's in Japan? Thousands of American lives lost."
Japanese public opinion in the past has opposed the prospect of a formal government visit to Pearl Harbor. To many in Japan, the air attack of 1941 was a response to a U.S.-led oil embargo. But Abe's plans for this year have won good reviews in the national media.
Technically, Abe will not be the first Japanese leader to visit Pearl Harbor. In 1951, Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida went to the site during a stopover in Hawaii following an international conference in San Francisco.
Abe is the first to make an official trip to Pearl Harbor, and to speak publicly about what happened there.
During a joint address to the U.S. Congress in 2015, Abe noted that he had paid a visit to the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
"History is harsh — what is done cannot be undone," Abe said at the time. "I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II."