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Greece Refutes Making Assurances Against Elevating Parthenon Sculptures During UK Visit

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Number 10 is entangled in a deepening dispute with Athens after abruptly canceling a meeting between Rishi Sunak and the Greek Prime Minister.

Downing Street had believed it received assurances that Kyriakos Mitsotakis would refrain from publicly discussing the Parthenon Sculptures, also known as the Elgin Marbles, during his UK visit.

However, a Greek source has denied such assurances.

On Sunday, the Greek leader told the BBC that having some treasures in London and others in Athens was akin to splitting the Mona Lisa in half.

As a result, Number 10 canceled the Prime Minister’s meeting with Mr. Mitsotakis at short notice.

Labour has criticized the dispute as “pathetic.”

A Greek government source disputes any assurances given to the UK regarding Mr. Mitsotakis discussing the marbles during his visit.

They state that discussions leading up to the meeting were smooth until late Monday afternoon, after Mr. Mitsotakis’s BBC interview on Sunday.

The sculptures, ancient Greek treasures taken to the UK by Lord Elgin in the 19th century, have been in the British Museum since 1832.

Both Greece and the UK have longstanding positions on the sculptures, with diplomatic talks expected to cover other topics.

Transport Secretary Mark Harper expressed regret over the canceled meeting and stated that the Greek leader declined an alternative meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

A Greek minister labeled the row a “bad day” for British-Greek relations, calling Mr. Sunak’s decision a “mistake.”

Professor Irene Stamatoudi compared Rishi Sunak to Lord Elgin, accusing the diplomat of smuggling artifacts.

Mr. Sunak emphasizes his support for the marbles staying in London, and a Conservative source reiterates that the Elgin Marbles are part of the British Museum’s permanent collection.

Later, Mr. Sunak’s spokesperson said the meeting’s cancellation was due to the Greek government not adhering to assurances about not publicly discussing ownership matters of the Parthenon Sculptures.

Mr. Mitsotakis expressed deep disappointment with the abrupt cancellation and had called for the sculptures’ return in his BBC interview.

The Greek government characterized Britain’s attitude as showing no respect for the prime minister and the country.

Amid a broader debate on museums and their collections in a post-colonial world, Mr. Sunak aligns himself on one side of the argument.

Lord Vaizey, chair of the Parthenon Project advisory board, finds the cancellation of the meeting odd.

Labour distances itself from reports suggesting openness to a legal formula for the sculptures’ return, stating it would not stand in the way of a loan agreement between the British Museum and the Greek government.

The UK government asserts no plans to change the 1963 British Museum Act, but a loan could happen without a change in the law.

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