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John King: Big news doesn't take a holiday

  • Story Highlights
  • Top general very confident that U.S. will be leaving Iraq by end of 2011
  • Obama will be going to Mexico this week; drug cartels sure to be discussed
  • Former Bush aide Dana Perino talks about fighting HIV in Africa
  • One Obama official talks about need for more offshore oil drilling in U.S.
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By John King
CNN Chief National Correspondent
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Editor's note: John King, CNN's chief national correspondent and "State of the Union" host, examines the news made in Sunday talk and offers up this Monday morning crib sheet on what to watch this week in politics. If you'd like to receive a sneak peek of this story in your inbox every Sunday, you can sign up for the "Political Ticker newsletter" at

CNN's John King had an exclusive interview with the U.S. commanding general in Iraq on Sunday.

CNN's John King had an exclusive interview with the U.S. commanding general in Iraq on Sunday.

(CNN) -- Easter Sunday saw important news developments, including the rescue of a U.S. ship captain from his Somali pirate captors, an extensive conversation with the U.S. commanding general in Iraq and comments from Interior Secretary Ken Salazar about the need for more oil exploration in waters off the U.S. coast.

On a lighter note, the Obamas picked a new dog; "Bo" will be moving into the White House on Tuesday.

It promises to be an interesting week, which will include another international trip by President Obama. Back just days from a long European journey and a quick visit to Iraq, Obama will visit Mexico next.

Trade and the economy are always on the agenda, but the deadly violence attributed to Mexican drug cartels will be a dominant topic.

Here's some of the Sunday talk likely to be at the center of Monday political conversations in Washington and around the country.

Assessing the situation in Iraq

I had an exclusive interview Sunday with Gen. Raymond Odierno, the commander of the Multi-National Force-Iraq. He was surprisingly strong when I asked him how confident, on a scale of 1 to 10, he is about being able to meet the deadline of December 31, 2011, for withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq.

• "As you ask me today, I believe it is a 10 that we will be gone by 2011." -- Gen. Raymond Odierno on CNN's "State of the Union" Read more about Gen Odierno's comments

He also addressed the possibility of asking to keep U.S. troops in Mosul, and perhaps other Iraqi cities, after an interim deadline to withdraw troops from city centers at the end of June.

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"We will continue to conduct assessments along with the government of Iraq as we move towards the June 30 deadline. If we believe that we'll need troops to maintain presence in some of the cities, we'll recommend that, but, ultimately, it's the decision of Prime Minister Maliki" -- Gen. Raymond Odierno

"[President Obama] understands, as he has stated, that there is still much work to be done here in Iraq. I believe he has given me the flexibility over the next 18 months in order to adjust the size of the force that I need in order to accomplish the mission. What we're trying to do is set the conditions for Iraq to take over and be able to secure themselves." -- Gen. Raymond Odierno

The general also gave us his assessment of the security situation in Iraq, where there are still attacks from insurgent cells:

• "What I see is there's some cells out there who still capable of conducting suicide attacks. ... It's much less than it has ever been. They are very small cells throughout Iraq. We continue to be aggressive at going after them with the Iraqi security forces, but this is not a significant increase in overall lack of security." -- Gen. Raymond Odierno Read more about the security situation in Iraq

"We've been able to significantly limit the ability ... to traffic foreign fighters into Syria. ... They are still able to come across in very small numbers. There's still some of a facilitation network still in Syria. In terms of Iran, although support is a bit less than it was, there's still reports that training, funding and providing weapons still goes on. Although it's at a smaller level, still very sophisticated and still trying to impact the stability situation here in Iraq." -- Gen. Raymond Odierno

We also spoke live with Iraq's national security adviser:

• "We are -- we, the government of Iraq and the security forces in Iraq, are much more suited now for this fight. ... I believe we have now very, very competent and very well trained and equipped, the Iraqi security forces. The Iraqi security forces are leading and doing most of the combat operations now. ... In the next year or so, we will be in a position to take all -- to take over all of our country. All the security, all over the country." -- Iraqi National Security Adviser Mowaffak al-Rubaie on CNN's "State of the Union" Read more about Al-Rubaie's comments on the security situation in Iraq

• "I believe President Obama understands the situation in Iraq .... His visit to Iraq, it's a very significant visit because this is the first Arab country President Obama paid this visit to, and it means a lot to us, because it means the United States government is adhering to the Strategic Framework Agreement and shows the commitment of the United States government towards Iraq." -- Mowaffak al-Rubaie

President Obama's upcoming trip to Mexico

On the CBS program "Face the Nation," the president's scheduled visit to Mexico was the primary focus. Mexico's ambassador to the United States, Arturo Sarukhan, said some of the sources of the recent horrible violence in his country are on the U.S. side of the border.

"You need 'two to tango'. And as Mexico seeks to shut down the flow of drugs coming into the United States from Mexico, from South America, we need the support of the United States to shut down the flow of weapons and bulk cash." -- Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan on CBS' "Face the Nation"

"The flurry of visits by Secretary Clinton, Secretary Napolitano, Attorney General Holder, down to Mexico in previous weeks, I think has started to push the ball in the right direction. I think the key issue right now is how can the United States help to shut down those guns and shut down that bulk cash that is providing the drug syndicates in Mexico with the wherewithal to corrupt, to bribe, to kill?" -- Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan

"We have seen a dramatic rise of assault weapons being seized in Mexico. There's a direct correlation between the expiration of the assault weapons ban and our seizures of assault weapons." --Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan

HIV and Africa

We got to know Dana Perino first as a top aide in the Bush White House. More recently, she has made TV appearances to offer her insights and commentary on political developments in the new administration.

We invited Perino on "State of the Union" to discuss her decision to spend two weeks at an HIV clinic in South Africa shortly after her White House stint came to an end:

"I went to Africa in February of 2008 with President Bush; I realized that this is what I want to do. I want to come back and try to help in some small way. I actually think the work I did really only helped them in a very small way, but if I can come back and shed some light and put some amplification on what we are doing as Americans all around the world -- there are Americans of all different stripes, and some with Christian groups, some with Islamic groups, some with Jewish groups, out working with NGOs and governments around the world to try to help in any way that we can." -- Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino on CNN's "State of the Union"

We didn't let her leave without weighing in on the monthlong back-and-forth between the Obama White House and former top Bush aides. It began with former Vice President Dick Cheney's statement on CNN that he believed the new administration's changes to anti-terror policies were making Americans less safe.

"I think it's perfectly appropriate for Vice President Cheney to defend the policies of the United States. He wasn't being bombastic. He didn't seek it out to talk about it. And Vice President Biden and others in the current administration after they took office have viciously criticized President Bush at every turn. And I just think that there's a double standard here and people should take a step back." -- Former White House Press Secretary Dana Perino

Oil and energy

Our "Last Word" segment on Sunday featured Interior Secretary Ken Salazar during a visit to an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico off New Orleans, Louisiana.

His words were a reminder that, despite all the talk of green energy and green jobs, we will be dependent on oil for some time to come. His words are also worth noting as the administration sets new energy policies that will put it at odds with some of its friends at major environmental organizations.

"We need a comprehensive energy plan. We need to do a lot more with efficiency. We need to do a lot with alternative fuels and renewable energy and move forward the vast technologies. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we are also developing our oil and gas resources so we break our dependence on foreign oil. ... For the foreseeable future, there is no way we are going to replace the oil and gas we are using today, John, in a matter of four, five, 10 years, so we will continue to depend on oil and gas as we transition over to higher efficiency and alternative fuels" -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar on CNN's "State of the Union" Read what Salazar has to say about Obama's critics

I asked the secretary what advice he would give to the governors of states such as Florida or California, whose citizens are wary of oil rigs off their shores.

"I would tell them to make sure they're making informed decisions. ... I think some of it has to do with where the resources are located. Some of it has to do with the technology that has been developed. I think the technology has come a long ways. There was a time, I think, when there was a lot of pollution that actually occurred from these rigs, and now they'll tell you that there is very little pollution that actually occurs." -- Interior Secretary Ken Salazar

First family gets first pet

Finally, the story it seems that everyone was waiting for broke this morning -- we finally found out the identity of the new "first pet." He's a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog -- a gift from Sen. Ted Kennedy. Sasha and Malia Obama have decided to name him "Bo."

But is this really news? CNN's Ed Henry put it all in perspective:

"There's a lot of interest in the first family. That's part of the reason why we report it. But there's also a lot of serious stuff going on. I think, as long as there's a mix; as long as there's a blend, this is what the American people -- they want to hear some good news sometimes, as well as the problems." -- Senior White House Correspondent Ed Henry on CNN's "State of the Union" Read more about the new White House dog

On ABC's "This Week", the former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said too much was being made of the first family's new pet.

"I hope that the girls love the dog. I hope the family and all the pressure they're going to be in finds it useful. And I think this whole thing is fairly stupid. It's great they have a dog; it's great that the kids are adjusting and where they got it from, who cares? It was a nice gesture on Senator Kennedy's part to give it to them. But, who cares?" -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on ABC's "This Week" Read more about Gingrich's reaction

All About Barack ObamaIraqRaymond OdiernoMexicoHIV and AIDSDana PerinoOil Production and RefiningKen SalazarNewt Gingrich

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