The British Museum is holding secret talks with the Greek government over whether to return the Elgin Marbles, according to a report.
The museum’s president, former Chancellor George Osborne, is said to have been in talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis since last November.
While Mr Osborne has pledged not to “dismantle our large collection”, talks are at an “advanced stage”, sources quoted by Greek daily Ta Nea said.
The marbles are made up of 17 figures and an elaborate frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple at the Acropolis in Athens.
They were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
Like many artifacts transported to Britain during Imperial times, the Marbles have been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed or returned.
Mr Mitsotakis repeatedly requested that the sculptures be transferred, even offering to lend other treasures to the British Museum in return.
A spokesperson for the Parthenon Project, a campaign advocating the return of the marbles, hailed the talks as a “positive sign” and insisted that a “win-win solution” to the age-old debate is possible.
The British Museum said: “We have publicly called for a new Parthenon partnership with Greece and we will talk to anyone, including the Greek government, about how to take this forward.”
“As the chairman of the trustees said last month, we abide by the law and we are not going to dismantle our great collection because it tells a unique story of our common humanity.”
“But we are looking for new, positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”
The Parthenon Project said: “With broad support for reunification among Greek and British audiences and constructive dialogue based on mutual trust, a solution to this long-standing problem is finally within reach.
“We advocated for an agreement that is beneficial to both Greece and Britain, centered on a cultural partnership between the two countries.
“This would allow the British Museum to continue to play its role as ‘museum of the world’ showcasing magnificent Greek artefacts in rotating exhibitions, with the Parthenon sculptures brought together in their rightful home in Athens.”
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