President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe used a symbolic joint visit to Pearl Harbor to highlight the strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance on Tuesday, weeks before Republican Donald Trump takes over at the White House.
Abe and Obama, who is on vacation in Hawaii, met to discuss ties between the two former World War Two foes before they headed to the site of the 1941 attack.
Japanese forces attacked Pearl Harbor with torpedo planes, bombers and fighter planes on the morning of December 7, 1941, pounding the U.S. fleet moored there in the hope of destroying U.S. power in the Pacific.
Abe commemorated the dead at the USS Arizona Memorial, built over the remains of the sunken battleship USS Arizona. He was the first Japanese prime minister to visit the memorial, a centerpiece of the historic site.
Officials said Abe would not apologize for the attack. He said his visit to Pearl Harbor was to offer “our prayers for the repose of the souls of those who perished there. We must never again repeat the devastation of war. I want to exhibit that resolve toward the future.”
The two leaders took part in a wreath-laying and a moment of silence.
Japan hopes to present a strong alliance with the United States amid concerns about China's expanding military capability.
The meeting is also meant to reinforce the U.S.-Japan partnership ahead of the January 20 inauguration of Trump, whose opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact and campaign threat to force allied countries to pay more to host U.S. forces raised concerns among allies such as Japan.
Abe met with Trump in New York in November and called him a "trustworthy leader."
The Japanese leader's visit to Pearl Harbor comes months after Obama became the first incumbent U.S. president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped an atomic bomb in 1945.
Obama called for a world without nuclear arms during his visit there. Trump last week called for the United States to "greatly strengthen and expand" its nuclear capability and reportedly welcomed an international arms race.
Ahead of the event, Abe said: “Over the past four years, President Obama and I have worked hard together to develop every facet of Japan-U.S. relations and for the peace and prosperity of the Asia-Pacific region and world. The message that President Obama delivered on his visit to Hiroshima toward a world without nuclear weapons is something that is still taken to heart by many Japanese people.”