PARIS — Socialist President Francois Mitterrand today asked Jacques Chirac, a conservative who is mayor of Paris, to become the new premier of France and form a government, official sources said.
Aides to Chirac, leader of the neo-Gaullist Rally for the Republic party and French premier from 1974 to '76, said he will give Mitterrand his answer within 48 hours.
Mitterrand's offer came two days after France's main conservative parties narrowly won control of the National Assembly. If he accepts, Chirac will operate with the smallest legislative majority in the history of the Fifth Republic and with an ideologically hostile president.
Jean-Louis Bianco, secretary-general of the presidential office, announced that Mitterrand and Chirac discussed formation of a new government during a meeting that lasted two hours and 15 minutes.
Chirac's decision to reserve his reply followed an agreement Monday between his party and the center-right Union for French Democracy to consult before any of their leaders accepted the job.
It was not immediately clear whether the consultation would be a mere formality or whether the Mitterrand-Chirac meeting had revealed major political differences.
Outgoing Premier Laurent Fabius submitted a letter to Mitterrand on Monday saying he and his government were ready to resign any time the president wishes. The new Cabinet must be formed before the spring session of Parliament, which begins April 2.
Chirac, president of the largest of the conservative parties, attended a meeting in a Paris hotel today with the newly elected members of his party, telling them that the union of the right must be "total, without reserve and without fail."
291 Conservative Seats
"We must assume our responsibilities and govern," he said before leaving to see Mitterrand.
With two of the 577 National Assembly seats still undecided after Sunday's elections, the conservative coalition has 291 seats, two more than it needed for a majority.
The political situation left both sides room to maneuver. Despite their defeat, Mitterrand's Socialists remain the largest single party in the National Assembly. They can delay legislation with amendments, and although Mitterrand has no veto power, he also can drag out the process.
Socialist challenges before the Constitutional Council, the final arbiter on constitutional questions, could derail part of the right's legislative agenda.
2 Years Left for Mitterrand
Mitterrand, who has two years left in his seven-year term, also can use his personal and official prestige to build public opposition to the right's program.
But the right moved quickly to close off some of the Socialists' maneuvering room by announcing that any premier picked by Mitterrand would have to be acceptable to the leaders of the two main conservative parties.