The son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, seen by many as his potential successor, urged the nation on Wednesday to develop a nuclear program, stressing that it would only generate energy and not be used for weapons.

Gamal Mubarak's proposal could help the son establish his own credentials as a serious politician and publicly distance himself from the United States, which is locked in a confrontation with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

The younger Mubarak first raised the proposal on Tuesday in a speech to a conference of the ruling National Democratic Party, where he is deputy secretary-general. He addressed it again at a press conference Wednesday.

"It's important to have a future look for the coming 20 years, especially in light of the developments that take place in the oil market in general, and Egypt's economic growth and increase of consumption," Mubarak said when asked about nuclear energy.

"When looking at the future, the NDP believes in the importance of putting alternative sources of energy on the agenda," he said.

He also hinted at the impasse between the United Nations and Iran over that country's nuclear program, which the U.S. and many in Europe say is secretly aimed at developing weapons. Iran says the program is intended only to generate electricity.

Egypt "is not the only country that is thinking about this alternative to save on energy sources," Mubarak said.

Still, Mubarak insisted that any Egyptian nuclear program would not be aimed at developing weapons.

"Egypt has signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which stipulates that members use nuclear energy for peaceful means," he said.

Many in Egypt believe the 42-year-old pro-business politician is being positioned to succeed his father when the latter's term ends in 2011.

Both father and son have denied any plans for succession, but frequent appearances at official functions in Egypt and several trips to the U.S., which have included meetings with top officials, have fed the speculation.

The younger Mubarak took a statesman-like turn on the opening day of the NDP conference on Tuesday, delivering an hour-long speech in which he vowed to push ahead with reform and made tacit criticisms of the U.S., a top ally.

Asserting that his country has a "responsibility to offer a new vision for the Middle East based on our Arab identity," the politician vowed not to "accept ideas about a greater Middle East or a new Middle East.

Mubarak was apparently referring to ideas for the region put forward by the Bush administration, which provides Egypt with a hefty annual aid package.

"We will not accept initiatives made abroad," Mubarak said. "Egypt is a big country and plays a leading role and will continue to do that."

In a surprise move, he also presented his idea for the nuclear program.

"The whole world is looking at alternative energy - so should Egypt - including nuclear," he told Tuesday's gathering.

Egypt has conducted nuclear experiments on a very small scale, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog.

In February 2005, the IAEA disclosed that it was investigating Egypt's nuclear activities.

It concluded that Egypt had conducted atomic research for as long as four decades, ending it as recently as 2000, but that research did not appear to be aimed at developing nuclear weapons and did not include uranium enrichment.

Egyptian officials have largely remained on the sidelines of international criticism of Iran's nuclear program, which the U.S. says aims to produce nuclear weapons. Tehran claims its goal is to generate electricity.

Like many other Arab countries, Egypt is reportedly concerned that Iranian nuclear capabilities could spark an arms race and destabilize the region.