Dispute over Parthenon marbles derails talks between Britains Sunak and

Dispute over Parthenon marbles derails talks between Britain’s Sunak and Greece’s Mitsotakis – Al Jazeera English

The Greek prime minister expressed his “displeasure” that Sunak canceled their meeting and said he was avoiding discussions on the contentious issues.

The diplomatic spark is flying after the British prime minister abruptly canceled a meeting with his Greek counterpart to discuss long-controversial artifacts.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was scheduled to meet Monday with visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who planned to elevate the status of the Elgin Marbles, a series of 2,500-year-old Greek sculptures that Athens is demanding Britain return.

Greece claims that the marbles taken from the Parthenon temple by British diplomat Lord Elgin in the early 19th century were stolen – a claim disputed by Britain.

The issue has caused disputes between countries for decades.

Mitsotakis expressed his “displeasure” in a statement that the British prime minister canceled their meeting at the last minute, accusing him of avoiding the matter.

“Greece’s position on the Parthenon friezes is well known. I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss it with my British counterpart,” lamented Mitsotakis.

“Those who believe in the correctness and validity of their positions are never afraid to face the arguments,” he added.

Mitsokis reportedly rejected an offer from Britain to meet Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden instead.

A Downing Street spokesman responded to Mitsotakis’ statement that “the relationship between Britain and Greece is hugely important,” pointing to joint work within NATO and “addressing common challenges such as illegal migration” and the wars in Ukraine and in the near East.

“The deputy prime minister was available to meet with the Greek prime minister to discuss these important issues,” the spokesman added, without addressing the murmur question.

Examples of the Parthenon sculptures, sometimes referred to as the Elgin Marbles in the United Kingdom, on display at the British Museum in London, UK [File: Toby Melville/Reuters]

Decades-old dispute

The sculptures were taken from the Parthenon Temple on the Acropolis in Greece in the early 19th century by British diplomat Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Elgin.

Britain claims it acquired the scriptures legally.

According to the Greek news agency ANA, citing sources within the Greek government, the British prime minister appeared to be upset by his Greek counterpart’s comments to the BBC on Sunday.

In his comments, Mitsotakis compared the collection at the British Museum to cutting the Mona Lisa painting in half.

A source in Britain’s ruling Conservatives told the broadcaster on Monday that “it had become impossible to hold this meeting following previous comments made about the Elgin Marbles.”

The British government has always ruled out giving up ownership of the marbles, which include about half of the 160-meter-long frieze that decorated the Parthenon.

However, Athens has recently been pushing for a deal that would see the sculptures returned under some kind of loan agreement.

The Financial Times reported last week that British opposition leader Keir Starmer would not block a “mutually acceptable” loan deal for the sculptures. A meeting between Mitsotakis and Starmer took place as planned on Monday.

But Sunak’s spokesman said on Monday the British government had “no plans to change our approach and we certainly believe this is the case.” [British] “Museum is the right place” for the marbles.