Egypt's antiquities chief said in an interview that if persuasion does not work, he will fight for an ancient bust of Nefertiti now in a Berlin museum that Germany says is too fragile to loan to Egypt.
Zahi Hawass rattled the world's museums last week with requests to hand over masterpieces of ancient Egypt, including the Rosetta Stone -- some for loans, others permanently.
Hawass said in the interview on Wednesday that the goal was to display the pieces in two new museums, particularly the Grand Museum, which is opening in 2012 next to the Great Pyramids of Giza.
But the bombastic archeologist -- known for the Indiana Jones-style hat he wears as he unveils new discoveries -- has met resistance from museums reluctant to part with their most prized artifacts.
"Some people say, `If we give this bust to Egypt for three months they will not return it,'" Hawass said, regarding the bust of Nefertiti. "I say: We are not the pirates of the Caribbean. We are in the 21st century, we have cooperation with all the countries [which] respect our work.''
At the top of his list of requests for loans are the famed 3,300-year-old bust of Nefertiti, the wife of the pharaoh Akhenaten, now at Berlin's Egyptian Museum, and the Rosetta Stone, a 760kg slab of black basalt with an inscription that was the key to deciphering ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, at London's British Museum.
But Hawass said Egypt was seeking "unique artifacts" from at least 10 museums around the world, including the Louvre in Paris and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts.
"We would like these 10 pieces to be at the opening of the Grand Museum in the year 2012 to invite everyone to show the whole world the cooperation between all of us," he said.
But while he touted cooperation, he also threatened that if Berlin rejects a loan, he will prove the bust was stolen and seek to bring it back to Egypt permanently.
"If Berlin will not agree to give us the loan, we will fight back to bring this bust for good," Hawass said.
Dietrich Wildung, head of Berlin's Egyptian Museum Berlin, said German officials have for years insisted the 3,000-year-old bust is too fragile to travel.
"The structure of Nefertiti's material, plaster over limestone, is very sensitive," he said.
"Our Egyptian colleagues know very well that Nefertiti will never leave Berlin for two reasons: Firstly, due to reasons of conservation ... Secondly, for security reasons. Given the current international political situation, it would be completely irresponsible to allow such a piece of art to travel such a far distance," Wildung said.
Hawass rebutted Berlin's assertions. saying: "I'm going to give them all the guarantees, insurance, transportation, guarantee completely that the bust will come safe."
Besides the Grand Museum, Egypt is also seeking pieces for the 2010 debut of the Atum Museum in the Nile Delta city of Meniya.
But it is not clear what Egypt can do to win even a temporary handover of the artifacts beyond public pressure. Hawass has sought UNESCO's help in retrieving them. Another recourse would be courts in the museum's countries -- but that would mean a costly legal battle whose outcome is uncertain.
The British Museum said on Thursday that it has received the letter from Hawass seeking a loan of the Rosetta Stone and that the request would go to the museum's trustees for consideration.