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Swift Reaction to Egypt Reform Plan

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. (File Photo)
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. (File Photo)

A key U.S. senator is applauding the unprecedented talks under way between Egypt's vice president and the opposition, including the banned Muslim Brotherhood movement, to map out reforms in the wake of massive anti-government protests.

The chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Democrat John Kerry of Massachusetts, described the talks between Vice President Omar Suleiman and opposition representatives as "extraordinary."

"If you tally up what has happened in the last 12 days: President [Hosni] Mubarak has announced that he is not running. His son is not running. He has put a vice president in place. He has engaged in a dialogue with the protesters. He is now promising to remove the emergency law, which is a major, major opening of the door to the democratic process, allowing people to organize, speak, meet at a café. I think that is a beginning," he said.

Kerry spoke on NBC’s Meet The Press program as anti-government protests in Egypt continued for a 13th day. Protesters are demanding that President Hosni Mubarak step down immediately and not wait until after elections, due by September.

Also appearing on Meet The Press Sunday was former International Atomic Energy Agency director Mohamed ElBaradei, who returned to Egypt recently and has backed the protesters. ElBaradei said he did not take part personally in the meeting with the vice president, and received news of reform plans with a note of caution.

"There is still a huge lack of confidence between the government and the demonstrators. There is a good deal of fear that the government will retrench and then come back, with vengeance," he said.

Egypt’s ambassador in Washington, Sameh Shoukry, who also appeared on Meet The Press, insists that real and lasting change has come to his country. "Certainly, things as they were are over. Everybody agrees that the Egypt of the future will look significantly different from Egypt of the past. This is a major moment in our history," he said.

In an interview videotaped Thursday for ABC’s This Week program, Vice President Suleiman said the Egyptian people will see the changes demonstrators demand. But he ruled out the possibility of President Mubarak’s imminent departure from power.

"We do not want chaos in our country. If President Mubarak would say ‘I am leaving now,’ who will take over? I want the opposition to understand that, in this limited time, we can do what President Mubarak has said. And we cannot do more. And when a new president will come, you [the opposition] will have more time to make any changes you want," he said.

Mohamed ElBaradei says President Mubarak must cede power, but need not leave Egypt after doing so.