Argentina's Ambassador Rafael Grossi, president-designate of the next Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, expressed a desire Wednesday to revisit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki after having a profound experience as a young diplomat there in the 1980s.
"I was so touched by that experience...I was very much aware of where I was and the significance of it, but I was there and I intend to go back," he said in an exclusive interview with Kyodo News after being endorsed for the position the same day.
The interview was held on the sidelines of a two-week preparatory session that ends Friday at the U.N. headquarters in New York to lay the groundwork for the 2020 NPT review conference, held every five years to review the operation of the landmark treaty.
Next year will also mark the half-century milestone after the treaty came into force in 1970.
"I think it is fitting and necessary that I go back to find the moral inspiration and the spiritual inspiration that I will need to do my job as well as I can," Grossi added.
He traveled to the atomic bombed cities, devastated on Aug. 6 and Aug. 9 of 1945 by the United States during World War II, while on a fellowship program. Grossi said he felt a "special responsibility" during the visits.
Interested in arms control and disarmament issues at that time and to this day, Grossi, now 58, recalled meeting atomic bomb survivors, known as "hibakusha" in Japanese, while in his early 20s at a hospital and how that experience has stayed with him for some 35 years.
When asked about the likelihood of going to the cities before next year's conference that gets under way in late April, Grossi said he hopes to make it happen as "it is the moment to be there, to listen and be reminded" of what happened in the past.
He also intends to travel to Tokyo within the next few months to prepare for the coming conference as Japan, he said, has a special role to play in what is expected to be a complicated gathering especially given the current environment marked by some of the biggest challenges in decades.
"The country that has suffered (from) the use of nuclear weapons has an indelible mark, like it or not, and it is there in the conscience of Japan society," he noted.
(A woman prays in front of the Peace Statue at Peace Park in Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 2018.)
On potential roadblocks, Grossi described "considerable challenges" that lay ahead. The current conference is being affected by a host of issues ranging from tensions between Russia and the United States as the world's largest nuclear weapons possessors, to uncertainties surrounding Iran.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Wednesday that Tehran plans to keep more enriched uranium than allowed under a nuclear deal with world powers, threatening higher uranium enrichment if there is no progress in negotiations with other parties within the next 60 days.
On top of that, there are unresolved problems on the Korean Peninsula, he said, not to mention the divide between countries that back the nuclear ban treaty and those that do not.
Falling under the nuclear umbrella of the United States, Japan does not back the nuclear ban efforts despite having been the only country to suffer from atomic bombings.
The eventual goal of each review conference is to agree on an outcome document, but that goal was not reached at the last meeting in 2015 and there are already doubts about what can be expected next year.
"These things are part and parcel of what countries bring to the table and part and parcel of what may be limiting their ability to compromise and come to agreements next year," he said.
"Yes, there are many challenges, enormous uncertainties, but of course the absolute necessity to succeed, so how to reconcile those things will be one of the challenges as president of the review conference."
From his point of view, however, he stressed that despite the deep divides no one could envision a world without the treaty. "I do believe in a world without nuclear weapons, I do believe we will get there," he added.