The United States is committed to reducing its forces in Okinawa as much as possible, Adm. Joseph W. Prueher, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in an interview Monday with The Japan Times.

“Working with Japan, we will make the footprint of our forces as small and as efficient as we possibly can, commensurate with our operational capabilities,” Prueher said. “We try to treat (the people) like we would at home,” Prueher explained, noting the Japanese want a strong defense, but they don’t want to live in landing patterns.

Prueher said there has been considerable progress in implementing the recommendations of the Special Action Committee on Okinawa. He noted that 13 of the 27 SACO proposals have been accomplished.

Prueher had good words for Keiichi Inamine, newly elected governor of Okinawa. “For the first time since I have been here, Gov. Inamine acknowledged all the difficulties and all the challenges” in trying to solve the bases problem. “He also acknowledged the effort by the U.S. to try to solve this and the progress that has been made. This creates a healthy climate for solving things.”

Given the “shared interests and values” that bind Japan and the U.S., Prueher was optimistic that the two sides will find a satisfactory conclusion to the bases problem.

The admiral was careful to emphasize that U.S. force levels will be balanced by regional security needs. He explained the five U.S. priorities outlined in the East Asia Strategy Report released late last year: the Japan-U.S. security alliance, the linchpin of regional security; relations with a burgeoning China; creating conditions for peaceful reconciliation on the Korean Peninsula; working with India; and dealing with the fallout from the regional economic crisis.

In particular, Prueher said the U.S. was “watching closely” events in North Korea, and was sharing that information and intelligence with Japan in a timely way.

The admiral said the U.S. knew Pyongyang was going to carry out a missile test last August, but conceded that observers were still surprised by the range of the missile. “The test demonstrated a nascent capability to launch long-range missiles,” he said. “We expect another launch, but it is not imminent,” he added.

Prueher also expressed confidence that Asia will emerge from its current economic problems stronger than before. Among the reasons for his optimism are the five elections that have been held in the region since the crisis hit. In each case, there has been no backsliding away from more democracy.

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