Kerry in Japan for landmark Hiroshima visit

Hiroshima, Japan - John Kerry and other G7 foreign ministers on Sunday began two days of talks on global hotspot issues in Hiroshima, where the first ever visit to the atomic-bombed city by a US secretary of state is overshadowing the broader agenda.

Kerry's trip is seen as possibly paving the way for Barack Obama to become the first serving US president to journey to the thriving metropolis next month when he visits Japan for the Group of Seven summit.

The Hiroshima meeting includes top diplomats from nuclear-armed Britain and France, as well as Canada, Germany, Italy, host Japan and also the European Union.

The gathering is part of the run-up to the G7's rotating annual leaders' gathering, scheduled this year from May 26-27 in the Ise-Shima region between Tokyo and Osaka.

Kerry arrived earlier Sunday at a US military base west of Hiroshima from Afghanistan after having also made stops in Iraq and Bahrain.

The US secretary of state, Britain's Philip Hammond, France's Jean-Marc Ayrault and other ministers plan to discuss pressing issues including the Middle East, the migration crisis, the conflict in Ukraine and terrorism.

Host Japan also hopes to highlight other concerns, such as rising territorial tensions in the South China Sea where China and some Southeast Asian nations have locked horns, and North Korea's nuclear sabre-rattling.

But what has captured the imagination of the Japanese public is the location and what they hope will be greater understanding of their staunch anti-nuclear stance as the only country to suffer atomic attacks.

Japanese foreign minister Fumio Kishida, who represents Hiroshima in parliament, also hopes to issue a "Hiroshima Declaration" at the meeting to promote nuclear disarmament.

"On this occasion, I want to send a strong message for peace and to realise a world free of nuclear weapons," Kishida said at a welcome reception.

Kerry and the other ministers are scheduled to visit the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which houses the ruins of the iconic domed building gutted by the blast, and an accompanying museum.

The first American bomb on August 6, 1945, killed 140,000 people in Hiroshima, including survivors of the explosion who died soon after from severe radiation exposure. Three days later another blast killed some 74,000 people in Nagasaki.

Japan gave up the fight six days after Nagasaki, foreswearing militarism and reviving itself as an economic dynamo protected, ironically, by the nuclear-armed United States.

Indeed, when asked about its place under Washington's nuclear umbrella, Kishida said ahead of the meeting that Japan knows the world's security realities, citing North Korea, for example, as a key threat.

Washington hopes to use Kerry's visit - he will be the highest ranking US official in Hiroshima since then Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in 2008 - to stress the tragedy of the war and also highlight Obama's anti-nuclear stance, expressed in a famous speech in Prague in 2009.

"We can never separate disarmament from the global security environment or strategic stability considerations, or divorce it from our security commitments to friends and allies," Kerry said in a written interview with the Hiroshima-based Chugoku Shimbun newspaper.

"Progress on nuclear disarmament must be made in a way that reduces nuclear and security risks for ourselves, our allies and all humankind." Though many in Hiroshima welcome the meeting as a chance to highlight their city's tragic history and commitment to a nuclear-free world, a small group of about 30 protesters gathered in front of the atomic dome on Sunday to condemn the G7's attitude.

"They came all the way to Hiroshima to say they would get rid of nuclear weapons - it's all lies," said Kyoko Taniguchi, one of the organisers.