Italy on Tuesday renewed its tough stance with the John Paul Getty Museum in a long-running row about the return of antiquities.
Foreign Minister Francesco Rutelli reiterated a threat to break off relations with the Californian institute unless all the disputed objects came home by the end of this month.
Rejecting recent overtures from the Getty suggesting that the most contentious item be excluded, Rutelli said the the 3rd century BC 'Getty Bronze' must be handed back along with the rest.
Speaking in the northeastern Adriatic port of Fano, where the famous Greek statue of a victorious youth emerged from the sea in 1964, Rutelli reiterated that the Getty had "a moral obligation" to give it back.
If it failed to do so, he said, "a fully fledged conflict would be unleashed, a full-scale embargo" that would mean "an end to cultural and scientific collaboration between Italy and this museum".
While noting "signs of attention and willingness" in recent statements from the Getty, Rutelli stressed that "words count for nothing at this point and this game must end by the end of July".
In his most recent statement, Getty chief Michael Brand urged Rutelli to show "flexibility" so that the stalled talks on the restitution of dozens of objects could resume.
He reiterated that Italy could show no legal title to the bronze, which has been attributed to the famous Greek sculptor Lysippos.
But Brand indicated that the other major sticking point, a 5th century BC Greek statue of Aphrodite Italy says is from Sicily, might well be sent back once ongoing tests are completed. Brand, 48, an Australian-born art scholar who took over at the Getty in 2005 after questions were asked about its past acquisitions policy, called the Aphrodite demand "a rather reasonable request" but reiterated the Getty's view that there was no legal case for returning the bronze.
"I have said this very clearly, I'd be really happy to pick up the talks. But their position, as we know, is 'no bronze no deal'," he told ANSA.
GETTY DESIRE FOR 'FLEXIBILITY'.
"I remain optimistic but I'd like to see a certain flexibility: it's in the interests of both sides to resume negotiations and collaboration.
"In our view the ball is in their court," Brand said, confirming that he hadn't heard from Rutelli for months despite inviting him to a workshop on the Aphrodite that kicked off in May.
However, Sicily's regional government sent three representatives to the workshop, which is expected to come to its conclusions by the end of the year.
Brand has said the Los Angeles museum will return the Venus if the group of independent experts proves beyond doubt Italy's claim that it comes from the ancient Greek city of Morgantina in Sicily.
Among the experts examining the provenance of the work are University of Virginia art historian and co-director of the US Morgantina dig, Malcolm Bell; New York University archaeology professor Clemente Marconi; and Palermo University geochemistry professor Rosario Alaimo.
Brand said they would examine pollen and earth taken from the statue when it was cleaned in 1988 in order to clear up the "complex and often contradictory" claims about its origin.
The first results of the new studies are expected shortly and will be posted on the Getty's website, Brand said.
"Our aim is to resolve the question in November or December," Brand said.
Brand recalled that, before talks broke down in December, the Getty proposed a joint investigation while keeping the statue in co-ownership - an offer Italy refused.
The Getty chief reiterated that the Getty has already offered to return 26 disputed artefacts.
He also argued that Italy had expected too much in demanding 52 articles - three of which the Getty returned - before the talks broke down.
The Getty claims the bronze athlete, which the Californian museum acquired in 1977, was found in international waters and so does not belong to Italy.
Italy does not dispute that the bronze was outside territorial waters when it was discovered, but claims that it was taken out of Italy illegally.
The Getty feels it is on firmer ground regarding the bronze, commentators say, because it cannot be linked to the allegedly questionable acquisitions policy of its former curator, Marion True, currently defending herself in Rome in the first-ever trial of an arts curator Brand said his arrival in Los Angeles in December 2005 signalled the beginning of "a new era".
"There is a real will on the part of the museum and the foundation to start a new policy".
The deal with the Getty was to have been the third with major US institutions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts have agreed to return key parts of their classical collections in return for loans of equivalent value.