Using a scale of one to ten, Gates said he rates the relationship with Pakistan at a "six or a seven" now.
The Pakistanis "are very sensitive to the size of the American footprint, the number of Americans on the ground in a training capacity or whatever," Gates said in an interview that aired on CNN's John King, USA. "They're also extremely sensitive about their sovereignty. And we have to respect those things."
"So I think those are things that we're working our way through, but frankly, as I've just indicated, I think the relationship has been improving significantly, and I expect that to continue," Gates said.
On the Obama administration's little acknowledged but widely reported use of remotely-piloted "drone" plane attacks in Pakistani territory, Gates gave few details.
"I would just say we are doing what we need to do," the Defense secretary told King.
On Iran, Gates said the international community should not be fooled by the relative calm that has followed Tehran's efforts to crack down on protests after last year's disputed presidential election results. "I think the regime has been able to repress the opposition and through the use of brute force, but they haven't solved any of the problems and those people's resentment and anger has not gone away," Gates told King.