When Tony Blair was Prime Minister of the UK, he considered a “long-term loan” of the Parthenon Marbles to Greece to increase support for London’s bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.

Newly released documents from two decades ago show correspondence from culture policy adviser Sarah Hunter writing to Blair in April 2003, recommending the political leader privately and publicly “encourage” the British Museum to seek an alternatives to the long-contested ownership issue.

In October of the previous year, then Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis sent to Blair a proposal for a “reunification” plan that would place the marble statues in a purpose-built museum at the Acropolis in time for the 2004 Olympics in Athens.

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The UK government’s longstanding position—both then and now—is that the Parthenon Marbles are under the management of the British Museum and its trustees. But at the time of Hunter’s writing, Greece was about to host the Olympics and had become president of the European Council. Hunter wrote that these were “good reasons to change tack.”

“The Greek case has become more sophisticated – arguing for a loan rather than restitution of ownership – and contrasts with the BM’s blinkered intransigence to consider any compromises,” she wrote in files released by the National Archives on Friday.

“The marbles could be a powerful bargaining chip in IOC [International Olympic Committee] vote building for a 2012 Olympic bid. The publicity attached to this move could secure the Greek nomination and help garner a wide range of other IOC votes, although we would have to guard against other nations asking for reciprocal acts.”

Hunter acknowledged that trying to make a loan during the museum’s 250th anniversary year would “be met with resistance and much broadsheet angst” but asked Blair about exploring the issue of a sharing agreement, a suggestion from former foreign secretary and SDP leader David Owen.

The Prime Minister agreed, suggesting Owen be put in charge of negotiations in his handwritten reply. “It would give it profile, he has clout, and could probably help with the BM whilst distancing it a little from govt,” Blair wrote.

The released documents also show Owen’s previous correspondence to the Cabinet Office, which had been forwarded to the Prime Minister. The documents said the former foreign secretary had been told “that the host country is consulted by the IOC extensively about the suitability of future applicants and it would not be difficult to get the Greeks to put their support behind a London bid for 2012 as a quid pro quo … ”

News of Hunter and Blair’s correspondence about a possible long-term loan of the Parthenon sculptures was first reported in the Guardian.

Last month, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak canceled a meeting with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after the latter was interviewed by the BBC over the ownership question of the ancient sculptures.

Greece has also recently offered to lend some of its “most important” artifacts to the British Museum to “fill the void” left behind if the London institution returns the Parthenon Marbles to Athens. Greek culture minister Lina Mendoni told the Guardian a promised trade agreement would ensure treasures from Greek antiquities are always displayed at the London institution.