CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The Overseas Basing Commission will make its first Pacific Command fact-finding trip later this month to study U.S. military basing issues throughout Asia.

Commission members, who report to Congress, will visit Okinawa, Japan, South Korea, Hawaii, and Guam sometime after Friday, said Patricia J. Walker, executive director of the Commission on the Review of Overseas Military Structure of the United States, commonly known as the Overseas Basing Commission.

“The itinerary is not being made public for security reasons,” Walker said in a phone interview from her Washington, D.C., office. But commission members are to visit with Adm. Thomas Fargo, commander, U.S. Pacific Command, “and as many bases as we can to get command briefings and see the key bases in each area,” she said.

No meetings are scheduled with local officials but Walker said the Okinawa prefectural government already has “strongly made its case” for closing Futenma Marine Corps Air Station immediately.

“They are scheduled to meet only with the military officials,” she said of the visit. “But that’s not saying that they won’t be meeting with anybody else if there is time and they feel it would be beneficial.

“But I don’t believe they intend to do that,” she added. “They don’t want to influence any negotiations that may be going on. This trip is strictly for collecting information and trying to understand the basing needs in the Pacific.”

During a meeting with President Bush at the United Nations in September, Japan’s Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said reducing the “burden” of Okinawa in hosting U.S. bases was a top priority.

According to a transcript of a news conference held after the meeting, a senior U.S. defense official told reporters there was no agreement on any concrete numbers of troops to be moved from Okinawa, although the Japanese press has reported for months that an artillery unit may be moved to mainland Japan, where it now conducts live-fire exercises.

“The two governments are going to be exchanging ideas for ways that we can try to reduce the burden,” the unnamed U.S. official said. “That may be providing some consolidation of bases, it could mean a change of numbers, but that’s not yet determined.”

Walker said Okinawa officials have provided information about their request for reducing the U.S. military’s footprint on the island, where U.S. bases cover about a fifth of the land.

The prefectural government and Okinawa International University, where a Marine helicopter crashed Aug. 13, have asked the commission to close Futenma. The crash near a university building injured the three crewmembers but spared civilians. A large amount of debris from the stricken craft was strewn over an adjacent residential neighborhood.

Futenma is to close once a new base for Marine air operations is built on reclaimed land in rural northeast Okinawa’s coastal waters. But that project is years behind schedule.

The Overseas Basing Commission’s charter states it is to make an independent assessment “of whether the current overseas basing structure is adequate to execute current missions and to assess the feasibility of closures, realignments, or establishment of new installations overseas to meet emerging defense requirements.”

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