George Osborne, the chair of the British Museum, has been holding secret talks with the Greek prime minister over the possible return of the Elgin Marbles.
The negotiations between the former chancellor and Kyriakos Mitsotakis have been taking place in London since November 2021, according to Greek daily newspaper Ta Nea.
The museum has vowed not to “dismantle our great collection” after the paper quoted “insiders” as saying the talks were at an “advanced stage”.
But it said it was seeking a “new” and “positive” partnership over the sculptures – 17 figures and part of a frieze that decorated the 2,500-year-old Parthenon temple at the Acropolis – which Mr Mitsotakis wants returned to Athens.
The marbles were taken by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, and have been the subject of a long-running dispute over where they should be displayed.
The Greek prime minister has called for the sculptures to be transferred on many occasions, even offering to loan other treasures to the British Museum in exchange.
A spokesperson for the Parthenon Project, a campaign advocating for the return of the marbles, hailed the talks as a “positive sign” that a “win-win solution” to the centuries-old debate is possible.
It comes after Mr Osborne said there was a “deal to be done” to share the Parthenon Marbles with Greece.
A British Museum spokesperson said: “The British Museum has publicly called for a new Parthenon partnership with Greece and we’ll talk to anyone, including the Greek government, about how to take that forward.
“As the chair of trustees said last month, we operate within the law and we’re not going to dismantle our great collection as it tells a unique story of our common humanity. But we are seeking new positive, long-term partnerships with countries and communities around the world, and that of course includes Greece.”
A spokesperson for the Parthenon Project said: “With widespread support for reunification amongst both the Greek and British public, and constructive dialogue going on based on mutual trust, a solution to this long-standing issue is finally within reach.
“We have argued for a deal that is beneficial to both Greece and Britain, centred on a cultural partnership between the two countries. This would see the British Museum continue in its role as a ‘museum of the world’ displaying magnificent Greek artefacts as part of rotating exhibits, with the Parthenon Sculptures reunited in their rightful home in Athens.”