Amid Parthenon Dispute, Sunak Cancels Meeting With Greek Prime Minister

Amid Parthenon Dispute, Sunak Cancels Meeting With Greek Prime Minister
Several piece of Greek sculpture, with figures missing pieces, displayed in a museum.
A section of the Parthenon marbles, also known as the Elgin Marbles, at the British Museum. Greece wants the sculptures returned to Athens.Credit…Facundo Arrizabalaga/European Pressphoto Agency

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For the past two years, Greece’s government has conducted delicate negotiations with the British Museum hoping to secure the return of the Parthenon marbles, the ancient Greek antiquities brought to Britain in the early 19th century by Lord Elgin.

Now, Britain’s prime minister, Rishi Sunak, appears to be throwing cold water on those discussions.

On Monday evening, Mr. Sunak abruptly canceled a planned wide-ranging meeting with Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis of Greece, which had been scheduled for Tuesday. According to the BBC, the decision was made after Mr. Mitsotakis, appearing on British television on Sunday, called for the marbles, which include statues of Greek gods and carved frieze panels that once decorated the Parthenon, to be returned to Athens.

Mr. Mitsotakis said on the BBC television program that sculptures had been stolen and should be reunified in Athens. “Where can you best appreciate what is essentially one monument?” he said. The current situation, with the sculptures split largely between the British Museum in London and the Acropolis Museum in Athens, was unsatisfactory, he added, comparing it to cutting the Mona Lisa in half and splitting it between two museums.

Mr. Mitsotakis has made similar comments throughout his terms in office, and Mr. Sunak has also repeatedly stated he would not change British law to allow the sculptures, sometimes known as the Elgin Marbles, to leave the British Museum permanently.

In a statement, Mr. Mitsotakis said that he was dismayed that the meeting was canceled. “Greece’s positions on the issue of the Parthenon Sculptures are well known,” he said in the news release. “I was hoping to have the opportunity to discuss them with my British counterpart as well, along with the major challenges of the international moment: Gaza, Ukraine, climate crisis, migration.”

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