Greece is in talks with Britain over the repatriation of the Parthenon Sculptures to Athens but a deal is not imminent, the Greek government said on Monday, quashing reports that an agreement had almost been reached.
Greece has repeatedly called for the permanent return from the British Museum of the 2,500-year-old sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the imposing Parthenon temple in the early 19th century, when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece.
Last week, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that there was “progress” and a sense of “momentum” in talks with Britain to reunite the sculptures in Greece.
Ta Nea newspaper on Saturday cited a Greek source as saying that an agreement was 90% complete but that “a critical 10% remains unresolved”.
The British Museum, custodian of the marbles which include about half of the 160-metre (525-ft) frieze that adorned the Parthenon, has always ruled out returning them, saying they were legally acquired.
In a statement on Monday, the Museum said it was not going to dismantle its collection “as it tells a unique story of our common humanity”. However, it said it wanted to forge a new “Parthenon Partnership” with Greece.
“We are seeking new positive, long term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece,” it said.
Citing a British official, Greece’s ANT1 TV said on Sunday that the only way to return the sculptures to Greece without violating British law was “if the British Museum opened a kind of annex in Greece”.
“Since the beginning of its term the government has been and is in talks with the British side,” government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told reporters when asked about the media reports.
“These discussions are at a preliminary stage. We are far from announcements or a final deal,” he said.
In March, the United Nations’ cultural agency UNESCO urged Greece and Britain to reach a settlement on the issue.
Greece stepped up its campaign for the return of the marbles after opening a new museum in 2009 at the foot of the Acropolis hill that it hopes will one day house them.
In May, the so-called “Fagan fragment”, a 35-by-31-centimetre (12-by-14-inch) piece showing the foot of the seated ancient Greek goddess Artemis, which was part of the 5th century BC temple’s eastern frieze, was permanently returned to Athens from a museum in Italy.