Jean-Pierre Chevenement resigned Tuesday as defense minister after coming under sharp criticism for his ties to Iraq and his dovish views on the Persian Gulf war.
Chevenement was immediately replaced by Interior Minister Pierre Joxe, presidential spokesman Hubert Vedrine said in a communique announcing the resignation.It had been widely expected that Chevenement, a founder of the Franco-Iraqi Friendship Society who has been defense minister since 1988, would resign after the war. The communique did not say why he was quitting now.
The resignation came as no surprise at a time when France is widening the scope of its involvement in the war against Iraq - formerly its closest ally in the Arab world.
Critics who had called for Chevenement's resignation said his ties to Iraq hurt national unity. Chevenement said such criticism reflected a "lack of patriotism."
Early last week, Chevenement said French involvement in the war would be limited to attacking targets in occupied Kuwait. Later in the week, French pilots flew their first combat missions over Iraq, targeting positions of Iraq's elite Republican Guards. French warplanes carried out two bombing raids on Iraqi positions Tuesday.
When France's National Assembly voted on military action in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, six of the eight lawmakers of Chevenement's faction in the Socialist Party refused to support it.
The move was widely seen as reflecting Chevenement's dovish views, and the legislators were suspended by Socialist Party leader Pierre Mauroy for breaking with party ranks on the vote.
The controversy reflected France's efforts to retain autonomy while showing solidarity with the multinational coalition arrayed against Iraq.
Last week, President Francois Mitterrand stood by his old friend, saying Chevenement "was talking protocol. I say what is done." The president also made clear that French forces could attack targets in Iraq.