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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan and the United States on Friday extended by six months a deadline to revise guidelines for their security cooperation in order to give Tokyo a more prominent military role in East Asia.
The delay beyond an initial year-end target is the result in part of a snap election that distracted Japan's ruling elite and the November resignation of U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
The extension gives Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe time to secure lawmaker backing for a reinterpretation of Japan's pacifist constitution to recognize a right to defend allies.
Such a change will allow Japanese troops to fight overseas for the first time since World War Two.
In a joint statement, the United States and Japan said they will "work toward finalizing the revision of the Guidelines during the first half of next year, taking into account the progress of Japan's legislative process".
The first guideline update in 17 years comes as Japan and the United States face a growing threat from nuclear-armed North Korea and come to terms with China's growing military might.
In a military pivot to the region the United States is putting 60 percent of its military in the Asia-Pacific and also wants Japan and its Australian ally to take a bigger role.
China in October said it was concerned new guidelines, which will specify bilateral cooperation in the event that a country close to Japan is attacked, would broaden the Japan-U.S. alliance beyond its historical mandate.
Japan and the United States are also discussing cooperation in areas as peacekeeping, maritime security and logistics support.
Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Michael Perry