By Producer
NBC News
updated 12/26/2006 1:44:14 PM ET 2006-12-26T18:44:14

Sen. Joe Biden — who says he is more qualified than other candidates contemplating a 2008 White House run — in a telephone news conference Tuesday morning said President Bush must “level with the American public” that any surge of U.S. military forces in Iraq will likely last for at least 18 months.

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Biden, D-Del., will assume the chairmanship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next month. He plans immediately to convene a series of hearings on the Iraq war — a high-visibility platform for him to showcase his expertise. He’s also been actively promoting a detailed plan for peace in Iraq that would divide the country along ethnic lines.

“I think it is quite clear to me that the surge of 30,000 American troops will not have any positive effect,” Biden said.

While administration officials say all options remain on the table pending Bush’s final decision to be announced next month, a surge of up to 30,000 troops is widely considered a favored option by Bush.

Bush is scrubbing his options in Iraq, after Republicans lost control of Congress in the Nov. 7 elections and an independent bipartisan panel determined Bush’s plan was dangerously off track. The Iraq Study Group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III and former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton, concluded that the U.S. could pull combat troops out of Iraq by early next year. The few troops left behind would be tasked with advising Iraqi units.

Biden’s hearings will begin on Jan. 9 and are expected to last three weeks. He said the witness list for the hearings won’t be finalized until the first week of January.

Biden also said that Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice will not testify until the president announces his new Iraq plan.

“You cannot expect the American people to let our folks sit there in the middle – to be killed on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day –without a plan,” Biden said.

“You have to impress upon the Iraqis that we are not there indefinitely,” he added.

Biden said that even former generals who support a troop surge say any additional U.S. forces will need to remain in-country for at least a year and a half.

Biden cautioned that  American forces may not make a difference in Baghdad’s escalating chaos. “Even with a surge of troops in a city of 6 million, the ratio will be 1 to 100,” he said.

The senator also said that he will formalize his intentions to run for president in January when he sets up a presidential exploratory committee.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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