Sen. Kerry: Mubarak Must Step Aside Gracefully

Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, tells Steve Inskeep that President Hosni Mubarak should declare that neither he, nor his son, will run in Egyptian elections expected this year.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

Senator John Kerry has a suggestion for the president of Egypt. Kerry is the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and he says President Hosni Mubarak should declare that neither he nor his son will run in Egyptian elections expected this year. He makes that point in the New York Times today, and he's on the phone with us.

Senator, welcome back to the program.

Senator JOHN KERRY (Democrat, Massachusetts; Chairman, Senate Foreign Relations Committee): Glad to be back. Thanks for having me.

INSKEEP: I have to mention, though, you're saying that Hosni Mubarak should say he's not going to stand for election. Mohammed ElBaradei, the most prominent opposition leader at the moment, is telling an Arabic-language TV network today that Mubarak should leave the country - not just stand down from future elections, leave. Why shouldn't Mubarak just leave?

Sen. KERRY: Well, I think that there's a process of transition here, which is very important to everybody, including to Egyptians. I mean, you know, you're not suddenly going to have a government of any competence at all that comes in, unless there's some understanding of who and how of a transition process. I mean, that's just a reality.

I think if President Mubarak were to not only - I also say in this article that he should not just declare he's not going to run, but that he should work with the civil society - that means with ElBaradei and others - as well as with the army to put in place a caretaker government for a transition process with elections in the very near term.

It seems to me that's the most orderly, chaos-avoiding way to approach a huge country's transition with very important responsibilities in the Mideast in terms of peace process and stability.

INSKEEP: Senator Kerry, are you concerned that whoever will replace Hosni Mubarak could end up being worse?

Sen. KERRY: Look, there's always some measure of uncertainty in this kind of an event and transition, no question about it. But most - you know, I've been to Egypt many times. I've met with Mubarak many times, with other people there.

My sense is that the Muslim Brotherhood, while it is strong and organized, will not come out on top in an election. Contrary to the views I had about what would happen in the West Bank with the Palestinians and what did happen, I don't think that will take place. I think the vast majority of Egyptians are moderate and want to move in a different direction with respect to education, jobs, economy and so forth.

But, you know, the United States can't preach democracy and talk about people's rights to, you know, make their choices and then stand in the way of it and think that we're going to somehow orchestrate that post-event architecture so sufficiently, we guarantee who comes in. I mean, that's not democracy.

And so we have to take some element of risk, here. I think the key is to get ahead of this thing and to get out of it soon, quickly.

INSKEEP: Has the Obama administration already missed that chance to get ahead of this?

Sen. KERRY: No, I don't believe so at all. I think they've - they're considering all of these options. I think sending Frank Wisner there is a very smart move. I think he's highly skilled and the right person to be there at this moment.

INSKEEP: The U.S. diplomat.

Sen. KERRY: I'm confident that President Mubarak is thinking through these choices he had made thus far. And we have to hope that things stay calm. But evidently, they've given orders to the army not to shoot. I think that's critical.

All of those things are signs that there's a lot of thinking and a lot of evaluating going on. The key here is to try to set up a process where the army and others are all part of it. And the army is a critical institution in Egypt, and I think we need to recognize that.

INSKEEP: Aren't you pushing, though, Senator Kerry, for less aid to go to the military in Egypt and more aid to go to civilian institutions? We've got a few seconds, here.

Sen. KERRY: Well, how much aid goes is to be determined in the future. I'm not saying specifically less aid. We have to have aid go to economic development and education to the development of civil society. We haven't done that. That's a critical missing link. And that's one of the things that the people of Egypt resent.

INSKEEP: And in just a couple seconds - maybe about 10 seconds, here, Senator Kerry - can Israel afford to take the risk of watching a new leadership emerge in Egypt, not knowing what it would be?

Sen. KERRY: Well, nobody has a choice in this. I mean, the fact is that the Egyptian people are speaking. And that's democracy. I mean, that's the basis of it. We need to try to make sure this is an orderly process so that moderate voices can be heard, so the election takes place. And hopefully, Egypt can be guided to a place of continued moderation, continued responsibility and, in fact, become a critical part of an ongoing peace process, which is even now more essential than ever to Middle East stability in the future.

INSKEEP: Senator Kerry, always a pleasure to speak with you.

Sen. KERRY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: John Kerry is the Democratic chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

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