Tsipras Struggles to Find the Right Words for Neighbor Erdogan

(Bloomberg) -- Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras is eloquent on debt, the economy, his political journey and convictions on Europe. He’s less forthcoming on his eastern neighbor, Turkey.

While open about his differences with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Tsipras struggled to describe his view of the Turkish president. Asked if he trusts Erdogan, Tsipras said: “I believe that President Erdogan is a very important personality in the European political arena.”

Asked once more, Tsipras again demurred.

“Your question is interesting because my response cannot be a single-word response,” he said in an interview at Bloomberg’s European headquarters in London. “President Erdogan is a political personality with a lot of experience, a very important personality, but sometimes unpredictable.”

It’s not hard to understand Tsipras’s discomfort.

Turkey has asked Greece to extradite eight coup suspects, but Greek courts have refused to send them back. In March, Turkey arrested two Greek soldiers at the border during a routine patrol and has held them since without any official charges. Tsipras said he raised the soldiers’ fate in his call with Erdogan this week congratulating him on his election victory.

It’s that geographical proximity that may hinder Tsipras’s ability to speak his mind.

“We don’t have the luck of bordering Ireland, we do share borders with Turkey,” he said. “It’s important for us to have good relationships with our neighbors -- and sometimes having to deal with unpredictable circumstances.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.