Photo/Illutration Beatrice Fihn, executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), speaks to Japanese media representatives in Vienna on June 19. (Gakushi Fujiwara)

VIENNA--Japan cannot possibly hope to serve as a bridge between the nuclear powers and nonnuclear states if it chooses not to attend the first U.N. nuclear ban treaty meeting as an observer, the chief of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) said June 19.

Beatrice Fihn, the executive director of the ICAN, spoke to Japanese media representatives in Vienna on the sidelines of a two-day citizens forum on nuclear issues that kicked off June 18.

The ICAN was a driving force behind the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW), which was adopted in 2017 and led to the organization winning the Nobel Peace Prize the same year. It hosted the forum ahead of the first meeting of signatories to the TPNW. The meeting in Vienna starts June 21 and will end June 23.

Along with the 62 countries and regions that ratified the treaty, any other nation or territory can participate in the meeting with observer status. Although observers do not have voting rights, they can state their opinions and hand out pamphlets at the meeting.

In Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry announced June 15 that Japan, the only country to have experienced atomic warfare, will not attend the TPNW gathering.

“If Japan wants to be a bridge builder, it needs to show up and listen to the other side,” Fihn said.

Japan has yet to ratify the pact but expressed its willingness to serve in the role as a “bridge” between the nuclear powers and nonnuclear states.

“By boycotting and not attending this meeting--you’re not a bridge builder,” Fihn added.

Four NATO nations--Germany, Norway, the Netherlands and Belgium--will take part as observers, along with Australia.

Touching on the attendance by these countries, Fihn urged Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to send a delegation to the TPNW meeting before it ends on June 23.

“I make a direct appeal to the Prime Minister. You should send a delegation.”

Along with Fihn, Sueichi Kido, secretary-general of the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers’ Organizations (Nihon Hidankyo), a nationwide organization for atomic bombing survivors, spoke to the Japanese media on June 19.

“Each signatory by itself may not have a huge impact, but by joining together they can save mankind (from nuclear destruction),” Kido said of the significance of the treaty.

(This article was written by Mami Okada and Gakushi Fujiwara.)