CAIRO: German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle assured Egypt on Saturday that a dispute over the ownership of a 3,400 year-old bust of Queen Nefertiti will not damage ties between the two countries.
Egypt and Germany have been at loggerheads over who legally owns the bust of the ancient beauty that is currently on display at the Neues Museum in Berlin.
"I understand very well that this is a sensitive topic in Egypt. The statue was a legitimate acquisition of the Prussian state," Westerwelle a told news conference in Cairo.
The ancient artefact was at risk of being damaged even if it was lent to Egypt, according to the German minister.
"Experts say it should not be moved due to possible breakage and for everyone’s benefit, it is better not to subject it to damage," Westerwelle said.
"But even this great treasure like the bust of Nefertiti will not damage relations between our two countries," he concluded.
For his part, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said Cairo would pursue discussions on the matter "with our German friends."
The statue was discovered in 1912 in southern Egypt by German Egyptologist Ludwig Borchardt.
Egypt first requested the statue’s return in 1930 but successive German governments have refused.
Zahi Hawass, who heads Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities, says Nefertiti was sneaked out of Egypt under a coating of clay and shipped to Germany.
Nefertiti, renowned as one of history’s great beauties, was the wife of Pharaoh Akhenaton, remembered for having converted his kingdom to monotheism with the worship of one sun god, Aton.