LONDON (Reuters) - The British Museum said on Wednesday it was holding "constructive discussions" with Greece over the Parthenon Sculptures amid renewed speculation that the 2,500-year-old marbles could soon be returned to Athens.
Greece has repeatedly called for the permanent return of the sculptures that British diplomat Lord Elgin removed from the imposing Parthenon temple in Athens in the early 19th century, when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which then ruled Greece.
The Greek government said last month it was in talks over their repatriation, and Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that an agreement had been drawn up between the museum's chairman, former finance minister George Osborne, to allow them to be returned as part of an exchange deal.
The paper reported such an arrangement, which would in effect be a loan arrangement, could be concluded soon. However, Greek officials have said discussions were at a preliminary stage.
"We've said publicly, we're actively seeking a new Parthenon partnership with our friends in Greece and as we enter a new year constructive discussions are ongoing," the British Museum said in a statement.
The museum, custodian of the "Elgin Marbles" which include about half of the 160-metre (525-ft) frieze that adorned the Parthenon, has always ruled out a permanent return for the sculptures, saying they were legally acquired and UK law prevented it from breaking up its collection.
A spokesperson for the Greek government said there had not been any further discussions with British government officials recently, but its request for the return of the sculptures was ongoing.
"There hasn't been a new development on this front," the spokesperson said. "The government with professionalism and full respect for all the parameters of this issue will continue to pursue the best possible result, aiming at the reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures."
(Reporting by Michael Holden and Muvija M in London, Renee Maltezou in Athens; Editing by Alison Williams)