Italy's talks with the John Paul Getty Museum in a long-running row about the return of antiquities are "coming down to the wire," Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli said Wednesday.
Last week 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.
On Wednesday he said Italy had received "a detailed reply" which officials were now weighing.
"We're fighting and we're not going to give up. Perhaps we'll be able to give our citizens some goods news about the return of looted works in the next few weeks," the minister said.
"If we don't seal the deal by the end of July we'll cut off ties," he said again.
After Rutelli's most recent threat of an embargo, the Californian museum said Italy had more to lose from a break-down in relations because the Getty provides lavish funds for research in Italy and America.
Rutelli has insisted that the most disputed object, the 3rd century BC 'Getty Bronze', must be handed back along with the rest.
Last week 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.
'BALL IN THEIR COURT'.
"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.
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 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.