Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Wednesday dismissed reports of an imminent repatriation of the Parthenon sculptures known in Britain as the Elgin marbles.
Britain and Greece recently began fresh talks over a possible deal to end the long-running dispute, with Greece seeking the permanent return from the British Museum of the 2,500-year-old sculptures removed from the Parthenon temple in the early 19th century by British diplomat Lord Elgin when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
In a televised meeting with President Katerina Sakellaropoulou, conservative premier Mitsotakis, whose term ends in July, said he hopes to achieve the return of the sculptures if he wins a second term.
“I don’t expect immediate results, but I believe that we have already moved very systematically,” Mitsotakis said.
“If the Greek people trust us again, I believe we could achieve this target after the elections.”
Greece has accused Lord Elgin of theft and does not recognise the British Museum as owner of the sculptures.
The Parthenon, which is on the Acropolis in Athens, was completed in the fifth century BC as a temple to the goddess Athena and its decorative friezes contain some of the greatest examples of ancient Greek sculpture.
The British Museum has always ruled out returning the parts in its collection, which include about half of the 160 metre (525 ft) frieze that adorned the Parthenon and maintains that they were acquired legally.
However, there have been recent news reports in both countries saying that an agreement between Athens and the museum was close to allow the sculptures to be returned as part of an exchange deal.
Mitsotakis also said on Wednesday that Greece wants the antiquities returned so that “not only we, Greeks, but everyone, including our visitors, see and enjoy this universal monument in its entirety, in its natural space, which is none other than the Acropolis Museum”.