Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis held an undisclosed meeting with British Museum chairman George Osborne in London earlier in the week while the press had fixated on Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ contacts in the British capital, and especially British PM Rishi Sunak’s “snub” of his Greek counterpart – ostensibly due to the Parthenon Marbles issue.

According to the Athens daily “Ta Nea”, in an article bylined by Yannis Andritsopoulos, Greece’s top diplomat met “off the radar” with the head of the institution that holds and displays the invaluable friezes.

Contacts between Greek government representatives and the British Museum’s leadership have long been confirmed by both sides, although details over whatever negotiations remain sparce.

According to “Ta Nea”, Mitsotakis’ office attempted to keep the meeting a secret, with members of the Greek government delegation in London even telling accompanying reporters that “there was no meeting with Osborne” in the works. The Greek premier’s delegation had also systematically downplayed any possible breakthrough in the thorny issue.

The Gerapetritis-Osbourne meeting, according to the Athens daily, took place hours before Sunak abruptly cancelled his Tuesday morning meeting with Mitsotakis at No. 10 Downing Street – an incident viewed as an unprecedented and undiplomatic snub that cast a shadow on Greek-UK relations.

According to a source with knowledge of the talks, the meeting that actually took place was conducted in a positive climate, with a review of progress made to date but also to where differences remain to be resolved.

British Museum proposes partial return under ‘loan status’; Athens want permanent reunion of all friezes in existence

Osborne has reportedly proposed the return, to Greece, of one-third or half of the Parthenon Marbles held by the British Museum for a period of 10 to 15 years, in return for the loaning of well-known artifacts displayed in Greek museums.

Conversely, Athens reportedly remains steadfast to a long-standing position of successive Greek governments, namely, the permanent reunion of all Parthenon friezes in existence, i.e. those in Athens and those sliced off the quintessence of Classical Antiquity in the early 19th century by a rogue English diplomat.

The Mitsotakis government’s “all or nothing” position is ostensibly reinforced by confidential opinion polls results showing that a large number of respondents in Greece are absolutely opposed to only a “partial return” of the Marbles.

A woman views examples of the Parthenon sculptures, sometimes referred to in the UK as the Elgin Marbles, on display at the British Museum in London, Britain, November 29, 2023. REUTERS/Hannah McKay[/caption]

The poll results will, by all accounts, be taken into consideration by the Mitsotakis government ahead of any significant decision affecting the dispute.

According to “Ta Nea”, other proposals discussed by the two sides includes a “gradual” reunion of the incomparable marble artworks, along the lines of “a few now, more later.”

Other sources claim that the oft-cited hurdle of “ownership” has already been overcome with various legal maneuvers and interpretations to be employed, whereby Greece won’t be required to recognize what it has long considered as the disputed possession of the Marbles by the British Museum. On his part, Osbourne, in fact, told reporters last week that the possibilities for an agreement with Athens were 50-50.

Keir Starmer appears favorable to deal between Greece, museum

Judging from the latest information and the political situation, especially in Britain, any agreement, if achieved, will come in the future, and more precisely during a now projected Labour government that will succeed Sunak’s Tories.

While Sunak canceled his Tuesday meeting with Mitsotakis, his main rival, Labour leader Keir Starmer sat down with the Greek leader a day earlier during a private – but highly publicized – meeting held in the country’s embassy in London – where all participants beamed for the cameras.

Although Sir Keir made it clear that if elected a Labour government will not change British law to facilitate the Marbles’ return, he said he remains “open” to “alternative solutions”, ones that are not confined by a loan framework with a date of expiry.