London [UK], November 29: British Prime Rishi Sunak decided it would "not be productive" to hold a meeting with his Greek counterpart after it was felt a reassurance not to use the visit to focus on the Elgin Marbles was "not adhered to," Downing Street said.
A meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Tuesday was unexpectedly cancelled after he spoke publicly about the marbles, also known as the Parthenon Sculptures, which he wants returned to Athens from the British Museum.
The decision has caused a diplomatic fallout, with a source on the Greek side telling the PA news agency that Mitsotakis and his team had been left "baffled, surprised and not a little bit annoyed" at the cancellation.
Sunak's Downing Street office said it had been given "reassurances" that Mitsotakis would not use the UK visit as a "public platform" to lobby for the return of the sculptures.
Mitsotakis used an interview ahead of the anticipated talks to describe the current situation as being akin to the "Mona Lisa" painting being cut in half. Following the comments, Sunak felt any talks were likely to be "dominated" by the marbles row, according to Downing Street.
Athens has long demanded the return of the historic works, which were removed from Greece by Lord Elgin in the early 19th century when he was the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire.
The British prime minister's official spokesman told reporters: "The UK and Greece relationship is hugely important, from our work together in NATO, to tackling shared challenges like illegal migration and joint efforts to resolve the crisis in the Middle East and the war in Ukraine.
"When requesting a meeting with the Prime Minister this week, the Greek government provided reassurances that they would not use the visit as a public platform to relitigate long settled matters relating to the ownership of the Parthenon Sculptures, which would only serve to distract from those important issues I just outlined."
Source: Qatar Tribune