Washington (CNN) -- One of the U.S. Senate's most influential foreign policy voices called Tuesday for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to step down -- reflecting what appears to be a rapidly changing consensus among top Washington policymakers.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, also said Mubarak's son should not take the reins of power in Cairo.
Kerry argued that the U.S. government needs to start paying closer attention to the "genuine political, legal and economic needs" of people in the Middle East, as opposed to consistently supporting friendly governments regardless of their domestic politics.
The five-term senator's comments came as throngs of Egyptian protesters continued to demand an end to Mubarak's nearly 30-year rule.
Kerry is closely allied with the Obama administration, and would be unlikely to call for change if such a move would undermine the White House's strategy in dealing with the crisis.
"It is not enough for President Mubarak to pledge 'fair' elections, as he did on Saturday," Kerry wrote in a New York Times op-ed. "The most important step that he can take is to address his nation and declare that neither he nor the son he has been positioning as his successor will run in the presidential election this year."
"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 said.
Kerry praised Mubarak as a "great nationalist" who helped Egypt emerge from "the last vestiges of British colonialism," but said that Egyptians have now "made clear they will settle for nothing less than greater democracy and more economic opportunities."
Mubarak "must guarantee that the (upcoming presidential) election will be honest and open to all legitimate candidates and conducted without interference from the military or security apparatus and under the oversight of international monitors," Kerry argued.
"The Egyptian people are demanding wholesale transformation, not window dressing. As part of the transition, President Mubarak needs to work with the army and civil society to establish an interim caretaker government as soon as possible to oversee an orderly transition in the coming months."
The U.S. government needs to seize on the current crisis to change its policy towards Egypt and the broader Middle East, Kerry continued.
"It is true that our public rhetoric did not always match our private concerns," he wrote. There has been "a pragmatic understanding that our relationship benefited American foreign policy and promoted peace in the region." But "our interests are not served by watching friendly governments collapse under the weight of the anger and frustrations of their own people, nor by transferring power to radical groups that would spread extremism."
Kerry noted that America's extensive military aid to Egypt should be matched by civilian assistance along the lines of what is currently being offered to Pakistan.
"For three decades, the United States pursued a Mubarak policy," he wrote. "Now we must look beyond the Mubarak era and devise an Egyptian policy."