TOKYO, July 20 (Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to continue dialogue with Russian President Vladimir Putin, taking a softer line with Moscow than some Western powers after the shooting down of a passenger jet over Ukraine.
Abe has worked to improve Japan’s relations with resource-rich Russia, a centrepiece of his foreign policy.
“Russia should commit constructively to various international issues as a responsible state. To help that I will continue dialogue with President Putin,” Abe said in a speech carried in Japanese media.
“Any conflict should be solved not by power but by diplomatic means based on international law,” he said.
Ukraine has accused Russia and pro-Moscow rebels of destroying evidence to cover up their guilt in the shooting down of the Malaysia Airlines jet that has intensified a showdown between the Kremlin and Western powers.
Calling it “an outrage of unspeakable proportions”, U.S. President Barack Obama stopped short of directly blaming Russia for the incident but warned that he was prepared to tighten economic sanctions.
Britain said on Sunday it would seek to persuade other European nations at an EU meeting on Tuesday to ratchet up sanctions on Russia.
World leaders have called for a rapid investigation into the shooting down of the airliner which was carrying 298 passengers. The incident could mark a pivotal moment in deteriorating relations between Russia and the West.
The United States and Britain said a surface-to-air missile appeared to have been fired from rebel-held territory.
In his first year in office, Abe met with Putin five times, while failing to secure a summit with the leaders of neighbouring China or South Korea.
Closer ties between Tokyo and Moscow, despite a territorial dispute dating from the end of World War Two, are driven by mutual energy interests, as Russia plans to at least double oil and gas flows to Asia in the next 20 years.
Japan has been forced to import huge volumes of fuel to replace lost energy from its nuclear power industry, shut down after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
Abe also wants to advance talks on the dispute over islands north of Hokkaido, which Russia says are part of the southern Kuriles but Japan claims as its Northern Territories. (Reporting by Ayai Tomisawa; Editing by William Mallard and Rosalind Russell)