"I could not put a timeline on it or a target date"

Sen. Bill Nelson exposes what ambassador Ryan Crocker won't say.

Published September 11, 2007 4:37PM (EDT)

While Chuck Hagel and Barbara Boxer have used their allotted seven minutes with Gen. David Petraeus and ambassador Ryan Crocker today to deliver impassioned speeches about the war in Iraq, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson has chosen another path.

From his quietly devastating interrogation of ambassador Ryan Crocker:

Nelson: Can Iraq be stabilized without political reconciliation?

Crocker: No.

Nelson: What is the chance of that political reconciliation [happeing in the 16 months left in George W. Bush's presidency]?

Crocker: Senator, I could not put a timeline on it or a target date ...

Nelson: As a diplomat, given the fact that the general has testified that likely at the end of next summer we would be in the range of about 130,000 American troops ... with there being only about four months left in the Bush administration, handing that situation off, with 130,000 troops, to the next president, what will be your analysis of the diplomatic condition and the chances of success under those conditions?

Crocker: Well, quite frankly, senator, that's just not where my focus is. It's looking at the conditions inside Iraq. Gen. Petraeus referred to a "battlefield geometry." There's also a political and military trigonometry that comes in to play as well ... That's where the focus is, not on the U.S. political calendar, for me.

Nelson asked Crocker if, after recent discussions with the Iranian ambassador, he has any reason for optimism about Iran's role in Iraq. The Iranian situation is "complicated," Crocker said, and he wouldn't "presume" to say what the Iranians are thinking.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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