TOKYO — A Japanese government panel on Wednesday said the country’s financial commitment to support the presence of U.S. forces in Japan should be given high priority when a special category of budget reserves are doled out.

The panel’s recommendations will be weighed by Prime Minister Naoto Kan, who has until the end of December to decide which projects get the funding. The panel gave “host nation support,” which pays for U.S. military utilities, facility improvements and salaries for Japanese base employees, the highest rank on a four-point scale. The panel, factoring in public hearings and comments, reviewed and ranked 189 government projects to be considered for the 1.3 trillion yen ($16.25 billion) set aside for projects that contribute to revitalizing Japan.

There were 41 projects that received the highest rank.

According to Japanese media reports, Kan is expected to approve full funding for host-nation support.

Also called the “sympathy budget,” Japan has been reducing the amount it pays for U.S. bases over the past decade from a high of $3.17 billion in 1999.

The Defense Ministry requested 187.8 billion yen (about $2.23 billion) in September for host-nation support for fiscal year 2011. The amount is temporary and based on this year’s budget since the bilateral agreement that covers it expires in March. The U.S. and Japanese governments are currently in talks on a new agreement.

The Defense Ministry told the panel during a public hearing last month that it had asked that host-nation support be separated from the nation’s defense budget so the public can get a deeper understanding for the host-nation support program.

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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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