ROME (AP) _ The director of the J. Paul Getty museum met Friday in Rome with Culture Ministry officials who have asked the California museum to return artifacts they claim were illegally smuggled out of Italy.

Italian anti-art theft police and legal experts were among those taking part in discussions with Getty Director Michael Brand and a team of experts from the museum, Culture Ministry spokeswoman Tiziana Benini said.

Italy has asked for the return of 42 items it believes were stolen, including a statue of Aphrodite that the Getty bought for $18 million in 1988.

A former Getty curator, Marion True, is on trial in Rome accused of having knowingly purchasing stolen artifacts for the museum. True denies any wrongdoing.

The case has been seen as a warning from Italy to the art world and several major U.S. museums have been implicated.

An Italian art dealer has been sentenced to a 10-year prison sentence in a connected case. He is appealing the ruling.

Benini said the Getty had requested Friday's meeting, and Italian authorities were waiting to hear the museum's position after Brand was appointed at the end of last year.

On the eve of the visit, Getty spokesman Ron Hartwig said it was too early to speculate about what, if any, objects the museum might return.

``The Getty's objective is to develop a fuller sense of all the evidence available regarding the objects in question,'' Brand said in a statement released by Getty officials ahead of the visit. ``We want to be in a better position to continue our dialogue with the Italian government.''

The Italian Culture Ministry has also been in negotiations with the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art over disputed cultural treasures.

Italy has proposed the Met receive long-term loans of important antiquities if it gives some of the most spectacular pieces in its collections back to Italy by the end of the year.

The Getty Trust operates two museums, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu. The latter houses the 44,000 pieces that make up the museum's heralded antiquities collection. It is scheduled to reopen Saturday after eight years of renovations.

Brand said during a pre-opening tour of the villa on Tuesday that the museum would hand over any objects determined to be the rightful property of someone else.

``Like any other museum, we've always returned works of art when they've come into question,'' he said.