Kerry became the most senior American official to travel to city, touring its peace museum with other foreign ministers of the Group of Seven industrialised nations and laying a wreath at the adjoining park's stone-arched monument, the exposed steel beams of Hiroshima's iconic A-Bomb Dome in the distance.

The otherwise somber occasion was lifted by the presence of about 800 Japanese waving flags of the G7 nations, including that of the US.

Kerry didn't speak publicly at the ceremony, though could be seen with his arm around Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, a Hiroshima native, and whispering in his ear.

The ministers departed with origami cranes in their respective national colours around their neck, Kerry draped in red, white and blue.     

Kerry's appearance, just footsteps away from Ground Zero, completed an evolution for the United States, whose leaders avoided the city for many years because of political sensitivities.

No serving US president has visited the site, and it took 65 years for a US ambassador to attend Hiroshima's annual memorial service.
    
Many Americans believe the dropping of atomic bombs here on August 6, 1945, and on the Japanese city of Nagasaki three days later were justified and hastened the end of the war.

As Kerry expressed interest, neither Japanese government officials nor survivor groups pressed for the US to say sorry. And a senior American official travelling with Kerry said no apology would occur.

Shortly before the ceremony, Kerry called it "a moment that I hope will underscore to the world the importance of peace and the importance of strong allies working together to make the world safer and, ultimately, we hope to be able to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction."

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