U.S. Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has urged Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down and promise that neither he nor his son will run in the presidential election scheduled for later this year.

Kerry is the highest-level US politician to call for Mubarak’s removal.

In an editorial in the New York Times, Kerry said Mubarak must to accept that Egypt's stability hinges on his willingness to step aside gracefully and that the U.S. must look beyond the Mubarak era.

The most important step that [Mubarak] can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son [Gamal] he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year, he wrote. Egyptians have moved beyond his regime, and the best way to avoid unrest turning into upheaval is for President Mubarak to take himself and his family out of the equation.

Kerry also pointed out the practical reasons for the U.S. to support Egypt.

“Given the events of the past week, some are criticizing America’s past tolerance of the Egyptian regime,” he wrote. “It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns. But there also was a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region. And make no mistake, a productive relationship with Egypt remains crucial for both us and the Middle East.”

In addition, Kerry beseeched the US government to provide real assistance to Egyptian people, pointing out that most US aid to the country goes to the military.

The proof was seen over the weekend: tear gas canisters marked 'made in America' fired at protesters, US-supplied F-16 jet fighters streaking over central Cairo, he wrote. Congress and the Obama administration need to consider providing civilian assistance that would generate jobs and improve social conditions in Egypt.

Kerry appears to be taking a harder line than much of Washington. On Monday, a spokesman at the US state department spokesman these are decisions to be made inside Egypt regarding Mubarak’s future political intentions.