The French government's announcement came after several days in which the government of Premier Jacques Chirac faced attacks from members of his own ruling conservative coalition, including former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing, for refusing the American request that F-111 fighter-bombers be allowed to fly directly from Britain to Libya over France. The French refusal, coupled with a similar stance by Spain, forced the American bombers to take a long detour down the Atlantic west of Europe and then across the Mediterranean.
They suspect that Chirac succumbed either to his political need for close relations with Socialist President President Francois Mitterrand or to the independent, anti-American foreign policy tradition of the late President Charles de Gaulle. Chirac's party, the Rally for the Republic, regards itself as Gaullist.
The decision to refuse the American request to fly over France was made by both Chirac and Mitterrand. For the first time since its constitution was written in 1958, France has a president and premier of opposing political parties, a situation that has created an odd, hybrid executive. Under the constitution, Chirac runs the government day in and day out, including the ministries of foreign affairs and defense, but Mitterrand still has special responsibilities in the fields of foreign affairs and defense.