ROME - Italy's culture minister said Tuesday that New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art agreed to consider returning antiquities allegedly looted from Italy if it can be proven that the works were stolen.
According to Culture Minister Rocco Buttiglione, the director of the Met, Philippe de Montebello, said at a meeting in Rome on Tuesday that he was prepared to ask the museum's board of trustees to return the artifacts if there is conclusive evidence that they were illegally smuggled from Italy.
The New York museum said the meeting was "constructive and could pave the way to a mutually satisfactory arrangement" but did not confirm Buttiglione's characterization of the meeting, which the Met requested.
"We want back what is ours. Of course this could cause a damage to important institutions and museums in the United States and we don't want to do this damage," Buttiglione said Tuesday.
The culture minister suggested that if the museum acknowledges that the artifacts in question were looted, the pieces - or equivalent works - could be left at the Met on loan.
Italy is seeking the return of a painted Greek vase from the sixth century B.C. called the Euphronios Krater. News reports have said Italy has also asked for other artifacts, but Met and Culture Ministry officials refused to say how many were in dispute.
The Culture Ministry said de Montebello and other Met officials also spoke with Italy's anti-art theft police, whose Web site features a collection of ancient Greek silver plates in the Met's collection that they claim were illegally excavated from Morgantina, in Sicily.
According to a 1939 Italian law, any ancient artifact found in a dig belongs to the state, and antiquities excavated after the law was passed are permitted to leave the country only on loan.
Marion True, a former curator of California's J. Paul Getty Museum, appeared in a Rome courtroom last week accused of knowingly purchasing looted artifacts. She denies wrongdoing.
Italian authorities increasingly are trying to crack down on antiquities trafficking and recover artifacts they contend were illegally stolen or exported from Italy and sold to European and U.S. museums.