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NEW DAY SUNDAY

U.S. Weighs Military Strike on Syria; Yosemite Fire Just 7 Percent Contained; MTV's Video Music Awards Turn 30; Courage and Faith; Syria Grants U.N. Inspectors Full Access

Aired August 25, 2013 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was cooking. It was moving fast.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): No end in sight, that is the view of firefighters battling Yosemite's Rim Fire. We go behind the front lines to see what they're up against.

SARAH MURNAGHAN: Every time I face things, that I thought were going to be hard and I've done them.

IVAN WATSON, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Three months ago, CNN SUNDAY MORNING was first to bring you the story of Sarah Murnaghan, fighting for her life and a new pair of lungs. Now, in a CNN exclusive, we bring you the first interview with her since her transplant.

KEILAR: And remember this kiss? This dress? MTV's Video Music Awards are known for breaking boundaries. This year's show airs tonight and there's already a twist.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KEILAR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Brianna Keilar.

WATSON: And I'm Ivan Watson. It's 8:00. This is NEW DAY SUNDAY.

KEILAR: The U.S. military moving ships into position, ramping up for a possible strike on Syria if and a big if.

WATSON: A big if -- the U.S. verifies Syria used chemical weapons on civilians last Wednesday.

CNN Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence is live now.

KEILAR: So, Chris, what action could the U.S. take and how likely might they be to take those actions.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna and Ivan, the U.S. military and the Pentagon have updated the potential targets for potential air strikes in Syria. And a lot of those involved the use of cruise missiles fired from offshore to land. Some of those targets could include everything from command and control facilities to actual artillery batteries that could potentially be used to launch chemical weapons. Now, the Navy has also added a fourth destroyer to the Mediterranean sea and moved one of those closer to Syria.

In a conference call over the weekend, President Obama got together his national security team. In traveling in Asia, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel weighed in with his options.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK HAGEL, DEFENSE SECRETARY: President Obama has asked the Defense Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that. And, again, we are prepared to exercise whatever option, if he decides to employ one of those options.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LAWRENCE: Although the secretary has mentioned the all options, sources are telling us that basically what they're looking at are ways to deter the further use of chemical weapons, not options that would involve trying to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria -- Brianna, Ivan.

WATSON: Chris, the Syrian government seems to have finally acknowledged that chemical weapons may have been used. It says it's found chemical weapons in the hands of Syrian rebels. What do we know about this?

LAWRENCE: Well, we know both sides are pointing fingers at each other. The Syrian rebels claim that 1,300 people were killed in Wednesday's attack.

But take a look at some of this video, gas mask, canisters, other paraphernalia that could have been used in a chemical weapons attack. The Syrian government says they found this cache in a storage facility in an area that is a rebel stronghold. And the government claims that some of its soldiers were suffocating, suffering from the effects of gas when they entered that city.

We also know that the independent group Doctors Without Borders now says that doctors treated over 3,000 patients for neurotoxic symptoms -- convulsions, difficulty breathing and things like that, and hundreds of them died.

So, right now, you've got two sides both saying each used chemical weapons, and more evidence that chemicals were indeed used -- Ivan, Brianna.

WATSON: Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence from Washington and, of course, a blame game under way, but what's even more confusing is that the chemical weapons appeared to have hit neighborhoods where the rebels control. So why would they use chemicals on their own people, their own supporters? KEILAR: Yes, really. That's why there's so much skepticism. And also, it took the government a long time to kind of come out and say, actually, it was the troops who were the target. So, this is the difficulty, though, I think for the U.S. and other observers in figuring out where this was used definitively.

Now, there is a bit of hope. Let's talk about that wildfire there in California. A bit of hope for that monster fire that's burning in and around California's Yosemite National Park.

WATSON: That's right. The canyon winds have died down a little, slowing the flames' march towards the popular Yosemite Valley.

CNN's Nick Valencia has been following the fire and he joins us live from just outside the park.

KEILAR: So, Nick, you have containment, it's up to 7 percent today, but we had 5 percent yesterday, 3 percent before, it just really makes you think it's going to be a long struggle here.

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna and Ivan, the smoke is still very thick this morning, and one of the main priorities for firefighters today is to make sure that fire doesn't encroach any further into Yosemite National Park.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was cooking. It was moving fast.

VALENCIA (voice-over): This is the time of year the Yosemite National Park is usually packed with tourists, not firefighters. But on the western boundary of the forest, about 40 miles from the heavily visited Yosemite Valley, fire crews are dealing with this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yosemite is certainly iconic worldwide so it's on the minds of the public in this area and beyond.

VALENCIA: Fast moving, fierce and so far unpredictable, the so called Rim Fire could be the largest fire in California state history.

Getting a handle on this fire has been difficult. It's being fueled by extremely hot conditions and canyon winds.

CNN was escorted through the fire zone by the U.S. Forest Service. On our tour, the steady march of the fire was evident.

(on camera): Here in Yosemite National Park, firefighters are making some progress, but with limited resources, they're dealing with a lot of hot spots like these.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's critical that we have so many crews out nationwide, and we do have to share resources, because I say, we are a number one priority. We're getting all we need.

VALENCIA: But what these firefighters also say they need is for the weather to cooperate. (END VIDEOTAPE)

VALENCIA: And containment is up to 7 percent this morning, but making matters very difficult for firefighters is that this fire is in inaccessible and rough terrain -- Brianna, Ivan.

KEILAR: Nick Valencia, outside Yosemite National Park in California there.

And as you heard him say, there's still such a long way to go. Is the weather going to help out here or will it be hurting firefighters today?

WATSON: Well, to find out, let's turn to meteorologist Alexandra Steele. She joins us in the CNN weather center -- Alexandra.

ALEXANDRA STEELE, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi. Good morning, guys.

Well, the weather certainly has not been helping. I want to give you a perspective, comparing the size of the Rim Fire to Yosemite, obviously, talking about its encroachment.

Here's the Rim Fire, it's 200 square miles. It's delineation in green is 1,200 miles. That is what is Yosemite. And it's encroaching into the northwest corridor. It's the remote northwest corner.

So, the park is still open. Three of the four entrances are still open. But also I wanted to show you the fire's progression again encroaching in here.

But you can see, since its onset a week ago, here's where it started and this is the direction from which it's moved and it is moving in this direction because of the wind. And we talk about those canyon winds. I kind of want to give you a little perspective. This is the topography, you heard Nick just talk about that, it's so difficult, it's the topography of those ridges and can I don't thinks.

Here are the ridges and here are the canyons that go in. And it's called the canyon effect. Not only here but in cities like Chicago or Boston or New York, where you have those very large buildings, and you walk in those narrow spaces between the buildings, you'll kind of notice the wind picks up.

It's similar here. The air gets squeezed, it compresses and it accelerates out. That's what we're seeing here, it's allowed those very gusty winds to be a part of this.

All right. So, here's the winds, predominantly, the component. And we talk about winds, the direction from which they're coming and they're coming from the southwest. So they're blowing the fire, obviously eastward and that's what's getting into Yosemite, kind of slow and light, 2 to 5 miles an hour now, but the gust, you'll get a little bit stronger than that.

So, you can see here where the winds are a little bit stronger. So, unfortunately, we are not getting any real relief because there's no rain coming as well. And the temperatures yesterday morning were really off so they allowed the fires to really rapidly accelerate. They weren't as cool as they could have been. So, that was one of the biggest differences.

What we're seeing today and in the next five days, temperatures in the 70s and no movement in terms of rainfall, you can see we're not seeing that at all, and the moisture, the dew points are getting a little bit higher, meaning there's a little more moisture in the air.

But the irony, guys, as we look at the big picture, is the tropical depression off the Baja Peninsula, bringing copious amounts of rain, flooding rains to Vegas and Phoenix. So all this moisture so close but yet so far. And it is not going to get us far north and west enough as we need it to.

Here's the other picture, beautiful conditions from Albany, New York, to Albany, Georgia, a sunny, beautiful Sunday, except right along the Gulf Coast, a few showers and storms today. Back to you.

KEILAR: All right. Alexandra, thank you so much.

STEELE: Sure.

KEILAR: The march on Washington, 50 years later, we will talk live with Professor Cornell West about the challenges facing the civil rights movement. Get set for some strong opinions.

And later in the show, a CNN exclusive.

WATSON: Major progress for the little girl whose fight for new lungs touched off a national debate. We talk with an 11-year-old Sarah Murnaghan.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ICON: Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, free at last.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEILAR: They sang the same song but in a very different time.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

WATSON: That's right. Thousands jammed the National Mall Saturday to mark the 50th anniversary of the march on Washington. Demonstrators heard from Attorney General Eric Holder, John Lewis and two of Martin Luther King's children.

KEILAR: Lewis, who spoke at the original event in 1963 called for a renewed fight for voting rights. And Cornel West watched the march on Washington on TV in 1963. He was a 10-year-old boy in a segregated America.

WATSON: And today, he's a professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary.

He joins us now from Washington.

Mr. West, what's the biggest challenge facing the civil rights movement today?

PROFESSOR CORNEL WEST, UNION THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: The biggest changes has to do with the three crimes that Martin Luther would want us to face: Wall Street crimes that remain unpunished, the war on drugs, and the war crimes that drop bombs on innocent people, especially innocent children.

And I would say, that both the march, where you had magnificent waves of humanity, and the Obama administration, they have betrayed the legacy of Martin King because they haven't talked about those three crimes, Wall Street crimes, war crimes, and new Jim Crow precious human beings, young, disproportionately black and brown, who going into a bogus war against drugs have had their rights violated.

KEILAR: You obviously feel that there is so much farther to go when it comes to civil rights, but I wonder, do you think that the modern civil rights movement needs a figure head? It doesn't seem to have one.

WEST: Now, that's a good question. Reverend Al Sharpton, we witnessed yesterday the coronation of Reverend Al Sharpton as the house Negro in the Obama plantation.

What I mean by that is, given the kind of MSNBC production, it was almost kind of an Obama propaganda in a certain sense, he's elevated in that way. But it's clear he's no Martin Luther King Jr., and we pray for the good that he does, and criticize the bad that he does. But we need an awakening of young people.

We have to keep in mind that Martin Luther King, Jr., you know, he called Malcolm X on June 27th, 1964. We have it on the FBI files. He said together, Malcolm, we need to go to the U.N. to put the United States on trial for the violation of human rights of black folk here and Africans. And there's very serious radical business.

We didn't see that kind of radical Martin, that titan of love, that drum major for justice, that militant for tenderness that's subversive for sweetness, that radical for tenderness, that's the Martin that we need to focus on that defended (INAUDIBLE) and the others.

WATSON: Dr. West, I would like to state a statistic here. There's a new Pew survey out that find that 70 percent of African- Americans feel they're unfairly with dealing with the police. Now, we may have expected that 50 years ago in 1963, would you expect those kinds of numbers today?

WEST: Not really. I mean, it's very sad, we need more white brothers and sisters. Of course, we have our brown brothers and sisters, high levels of deportation, I think that's wrong as well, coming out of the Obama administration. But we need to recognize that the criminal justice system is not fair, especially as it relates to people of all colors, and especially as it relates to black and brown youth.

We see the stop and frisk in New York. We're seeing progress on that from the courts, but we need a whole lot more. If we are going to survive as a Democratic experiment, we cannot be indifferent to criminality, we can't be callus to catastrophe, we have to have courage to tell the truth.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was tied to the kingdom of truth. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (ph), tied to the kingdom of truth, and the condition of truth is always to allow suffering to speak.

KEILAR: What do you think, Dr. West? We just heard you be critical of the Obama administration, but what do you think Dr. King would have said if he knew that there was an African-American president leading the country?

WEST: Martin Luther King Jr. would say I will not judge a president or any politician by the color of his skin, but by the content of his policies. And if those policies tilt toward Wall Street not Main Street, if they tilt to the 1 percent of evidence people, he was a Christian minister, he leaned on the same Jesus that I do and you begin with the least of these, the poor, the weak, the vulnerable.

So Martin Luther King Jr. would not be obsessed on the color of the president. He would say that's progress, but I want to know, what's the content of his character. I'm not obsessed with the color of his skin. What kind of human being is he, will he take a stand, and does he love poor people, does he love black people, and will he give poor and those who are on the edges priority?

That's the kind of brother my brother Martin Luther King Jr. was. That's why I love him so, and he loved us so. He loved you, sister Brianna. He loved you, brother Ivan, too.

KEILAR: And, Dr. West, we told our viewers that you would come with your opinions and you certainly did -- thank you so much for being with us.

WEST: Stay strong you all.

WATSON: Thank you, very, very much.

Well, up ahead on NEW DAY, it's that time of the year again. It's time for the VMA. But what can we anticipate from an award show where we've come to expect the unexpected? A preview, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WATSON: Welcome back, everyone.

Mike Tyson says he's been lying to everyone about his sobriety. The former heavyweight champ opened up in a way he has never done before. KEILAR: Yes, it's really powerful stuff and he says he's been battles demons more than any boxer he's ever faced.

Joe Carter has more in this "Bleacher Report".

What a difference makes, Joe?

JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, you couldn't be more right, Brianna. I mean, this bombshell, you could call it that, an admission came on is the same night that Tyson made his debut as a boxing promoter. He said that he's been clean for several years. And he basically used the news conference following that event to come clean, to spill the beans.

And it was an incredibly honest moment about hiss day to day battle with drugs and alcohol.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE TYSON, FORMER HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION: I'm a vicious alcoholic. I haven't drank or took drugs in six days. And for me, that's a miracle. I have been lying to everybody else to think I was sober, I'm not. This is my sixth day, I'm never going to use again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: Now, you can watch more of Tyson's very revealing confession. We have got that video for you on the bleacherreport.com.

Well, other news, the first of several lawsuits against Armstrong has reached a settlement. Armstrong has agreed to pay the same British newspaper he once sued back in 2004 for publishing an article about his doping. Now, according to the "New York Times," the paper was suing Armstrong for $1.5 million. The exact settlement is unknown, but it's being called, quote, "a mutually acceptable final resolution.

And finally, the Little Leaguers from Chula Vista, California -- well, they crushed Westport, Connecticut yesterday, 12-1, to win the American Final. Pitcher Nick Moore not only struck out nine batters, but he hit a monster three-run home run. California advances to play Japan today and that's where the world championship, that's at 3:00 p.m. Eastern. By the way the last four champions of the little league World Series either come from Japan or California.

My bets on that big guy right there, guys. That's the 6'4" pitcher, 6'4'' little leaguer. He's taller than me. I'm 6'3". This guy is 6'4".

KEILAR: Wait, how old is he?

CARTER: Thirteen.

KEILAR: Thirteen, 6'4", oh, my goodness.

CARTER: Yes, got a bright future. KEILAR: OK, go, California, though.

WATSON: Joe Carter, thank you.

Boy, Connecticut crushed.

KEILAR: Sorry, dude. Your home state.

WATSON: My home state didn't do so hot.

All right. Well, switching gears, this might make some of us including myself feel rather old. The MTV Music Awards turned 30 this year. Unlike past years, Brianna won't be attending, I guess.

KEILAR: No, I'm not attending this one. But I'm going to watch it. It's been making headlines for three decades now.

So what can we expect from tonight's big show? CNN entertainment correspondent Nischelle Turner has a preview.

Good morning, Nischelle.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Brianna. Hey, Ivan.

You know, the first ever MTV Video and Music Awards were held back in 1984. They were hosted by Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler and Herbie Hancock was the big winner that night. He won five moon men (ph). "The Cars Song" you might think actually bet Michael Jackson's "Thriller" for video of the year. It's pretty wild, huh?

Let's fast forward 30 years and it's now Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift leading the pack. But still at the VMA's, you'll never know what will happen.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER (voice-over): Happy birthday, VMA's. The MTV Video Music Awards turned 30 this year, and as their motto goes -- expect the unexpected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The VMA's are known for spectacles. This is where people come and pull out all the stocks. If you want to see Britney spears kissing Madonna, Lady Gaga in a meat dress, Beyonce sang, hey, hey, look at this bump.

TURNER: The 2013 VMAs leave their Hollywood home and head East to Barclay's Center in Brooklyn.

Lady Gaga is expected to open the show with her new single "Applause", in one of her first TV appearances after hip surgery.

Kanye West rocks the mike in his seventh VMA performance.

And look for the songs of the summer tribute featuring Miley Cyrus, Robin Thicke and their ubiquitous hits. Since this is an award show after all, a few moon men will be handed out during the live two-hour telecast.

Matt Lamoure (ph) and Ryan Lewis and Justice Timberlake leave the six nominees a piece, both earn nods for video of the year.

Timberlake will also be honored with the night's prestigious Michael Jackson Video Vanguard Award and there are rumors of a reunion with 'N Sync. Are you kidding me? I'm freaking out. I hope that's true. That's great. That's great.

TURNER: It's the VMA's, baby, after 30 years, I've got to expect the unexpected.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm really happy for you. I'm going to let you finish.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TURNER: It's definitely one of those shows, that the day after, there's always something being talked about at the water cooler -- Brianna, Ivan.

KEILAR: That's sure is right

TURNER: Dan Aykroyd and Bette Midler 30 years ago.

KEILAR: I know. I had not idea.

WATSON: You know, it was a really unexpected if they brought them again 30 years later.

KEILAR: People will go, what? Huh?

WATSON: Who are those people?

KEILAR: The viewers probably would.

WATSON: Well, still to come, a CNN exclusive, we'll hear from the little girl whose battle for new lungs touched off a national debate. What 11-year-old Sarah Murnaghan thinks about her latest big step towards recovery.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: Bottom of the hour now, welcome back, everyone. I'm Brianna Keilar.

WATSON: And I'm Ivan Watson and here are five important things you need to know for your NEW DAY.

First the U.S. government is trying to verify whether Syria used chemical weapons on civilians last week. Four U.S. warships, destroyers armed with cruise missiles have moved into the region. President Obama says preliminary signs have indicated a quote, "Big event of grave concern" Syria has denied using chemical weapons pointing the finger at rebel forces.

KEILAR: And number two, that rim fire burning near Yosemite National Park actually just kind of into the edge of the park now. Firefighters there have put just a small dent in it. They have the fire seven percent contained at this point. But you could be seeing some stronger winds coming around in the afternoon. The fire has already burned 130 acres and one entrance to Yosemite has been closed.

WATSON: Number three, police are searching for a motive after a Florida man went on a shooting spree on Saturday; 72-year-old Hubert Allen shot and killed his former boss Marvin Pritchet and a former colleague before turning the gun on himself. Two other workers were also shot. Police say Allen and Pritchet fought earlier this week.

KEILAR: Number four, hundreds gathered yesterday to mourn the deaths of Christina and Ethan Anderson -- the mother and the brother of kidnapped teenager Hannah Anderson. Police say the two were killed by family friend James DiMaggio. He was killed when police rescued the missing teen.

WATSON: Number five listen closely -- if you've been hanging on to an old lottery ticket it's time to check the numbers. The winner of an unclaimed winning ticket has until today to claim a $1 million before the ticket expires. If no one comes forward the money goes to future jackpots. So listen up the winning numbers drawn last August 25 are 1, 6, 7, 20, 49 and power ball number 23.

KEILAR: And that was bought in Rye, New York. I actually know someone there I may need to call them up and tell them to, you know, dig around their purse or something, right?

WATSON: Dig around.

KEILAR: Well let's take you now to a CNN Exclusive.

It was three months ago this week that CNN on a Sunday morning first introduced you Sarah Murnaghan. She is that little girl whose fight for new lungs changed the rules at least for no anyways for kids who are desperate for a transplant.

WATSON: That's right well Sarah has had a major breakthrough, we're happy to report. Just ten weeks after her second double lung transplant, the 11 year-old is breathing without the help of an oxygen machine. And yesterday Sarah's mom Janet posted this on her Facebook page. "After two-and-a-half years on oxygen Sarah is officially off oxygen. This is us outside enjoying the sunshine today."

KEILAR: And CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll just sat down with the Murnaghans for their exclusive first interview since Sarah's transplant. He's joining us now from New York.

Jason does she understand -- I mean she's such a little girl -- but does she understand what a big deal her case has been.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: She really does, Brianna, she has a deep understanding of everything that's happened to her. And in this first interview since having not one but two lung transplants, she talks about all that she has had to endure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: You know, so many people have said that you're a tough, tough little girl. Do you feel like you're a tough little girl?

SARAH MURNAGHAN, LUNG TRANSPLANT PATIENT: Yes.

CARROLL: You do?

S. MURNAGHAN: Very.

CARROLL: Can you tell me why?

S. MURNAGHAN: Because every time I face things that I thought were going to be hard, and then I've done them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: Well Sarah is due to be released as early as this Tuesday and not only did I speak with Sarah, but I also spoke with her mother, Janet and her father, Fran and talked about what her prognosis will be.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET MURNAGHAN, SARAH MURNAGHAN'S MOTHER: She's going to fight and she's going to be ok. I fully plan to watch her graduate from college and watch her get married someday and do whatever it is she wants to do. You know, I believe those things are a reality. I just don't think they're going to be as easy for her to obtain those things as somebody else.

FRAN MURNAGHAN, SARAH'S FATHER: Yes.

J. MURNAGHAN: But I think she's going to have them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: And Sarah said something else to me she said, she's not going for easy, she said, she is going for possible. And it looks like either this Tuesday or at the very latest this Thursday, the possible will finally be a reality for Sarah and the rest of the family. A very happy time for them and one that has been long-awaited -- Brianna, Ivan.

WATSON: Tough little girl.

Jason, the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network voted to give all children under 12 equal access to adult organs but only for a year.

CARROLL: Right.

WATSON: What do the Murnaghans hope will happen after that? CARROLL: Well only for a year will they do some study before they try to see if there will be a permanent change. But the Murnaghan family is hoping that there will be a permanent change. All they have been asking for all along is equal access whether you be 10 years old, nine years old or 45 years old. It is their belief that the sickest person should be first in line for whatever transplant becomes available, it shouldn't have to do with your age.

WATSON: All right. Jason Carroll thanks for that report -- and great to see that update.

KEILAR: Yes.

WATSON: And you can see the entire interview that Jason had with Sarah and the Murnaghan family tomorrow morning on NEW DAY on CNN.

KEILAR: Well she's being called a hero.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

ANTOINETTE TUFF, SCHOOL SHOOTING HERO: It's going to be all right, sweetie. I just want you to know I love you though, ok.

MICHAEL BRANDON HILL, GUNMAN: Ok.

A. TUFF: And I'm proud of you. That's a good thing that you've just given up and don't worry about it. We all go through something in life.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KEILAR: How a Georgia school bookkeeper says she was able to use her compassion and her faith to talk down a gunman. She learned some important lessons from her pastor who is also her uncle. He joins us next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WATSON: Hailed as a hero. That's what many people are calling this woman -- Decatur, Georgia bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff.

KEILAR: In this week's "Faces of Faith" we're taking a look at the elementary school worker being praised for her courageous 911 call after a gunman entered her school on Tuesday. Michael Brandon Hill was armed with an AK-47 and 500 rounds of ammunition when he entered the building and held Tuff hostage. Now she was able to calm the 20- year-old suspect down and get him to surrender to police.

WATSON: But she doesn't see herself as a hero. In an interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper, Tuff says her faith is the source of her strength.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

A. TUFF: I have (inaudible) every day that I have been through I was actually telling God that even though it seemed like I've been through hell and back, I promised him December the 31st that if he allowed me to live, that if 2013 would be heaven for me. And so I know today that all that I went through was actually for that one perfect day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Her pastor and uncle, Ulysses Tuff joins us now. Thank you for joining us.

PASTOR ULYSSES TUFF, UNCLE OF ANTOINETTE TUFF: My pleasure.

WATSON: When you first heard your niece Antoinette Tuff was the person who was -- who got this gunman to surrender, what was your reaction? Were you surprised?

U. TUFF: Well I was surprised from the stand point that -- you know you'd never know who's going to be in what situation. But not surprised from the stand point of how she has been developed, what she has come to recognize and how do you know something to be true until you're put in that situation?

So even though she was placed in the situation a lot of preparation have gone forth and on a way that she could determine and we determine is she really knew it was for it began to flow. So I was very elated that she was chosen for that reason.

KEILAR: Pastor Tuff I think a lot of people listening to what your niece said to this gunman would wonder if they would have that in themselves to have as much compassion as she did. Some people might feel that that's a somewhat unnatural response in a way when they're faced with someone who could -- I mean let's be honest -- kill them, kill the people around them. Were you surprised that she reacted with such an outpouring of compassion?

U. TUFF: Well I wasn't surprised because based on her life history, based on the situations that she herself had been in, she's constantly giving herself to make things better for whomever it may be. She's constantly seeking to improve the conditions not only of herself, but whomever she meets.

So the focus behind that is that if someone is giving you his life in this case Christ gave his life to her. Then that means she's indebted to Christ and because she's indebted to Christ then it became her responsibility and now to say to Christ "Oh my life is important" because at this time everybody's life was very important.

And if you invest in someone's life then what we try to get people to understand when somebody invested in your life you then began to focus in on can you do to pay the person? We can't pay the price back, but he has now the opportunity to make the difference.

So for Marie it became a natural course of a reaction or a natural cause of events that just in the right situation, within ways (ph) of experiences she was going to do what had to be done. As always she does that. KEILAR: Well I think we can all agree that she is certainly a wonderful example and what grace under pressure and under fear quite frankly.

U. TUFF: Yes.

KEILAR: Pastor Tuff, thank you so much for being with us.

U. TUFF: My pleasure.

WATSON: And of course Pastor Tuff will most certainly be referring to this in his sermon this Sunday here --

(CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Of course, today yes.

WATSON: -- to his congregation today.

Anyway for more stories on faith be sure to check out our belief blog at CNN.com/belief.

KEILAR: And still to come on NEW DAY new developments in Syria over the use of chemical weapons. We're going to bring you that and look at how Washington is responding.

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WATSON: Welcome back. We have breaking news out of Syria. CNN's Frederik Pleitgen in Damascus has learned that the Syrian government will allow United Nations' investigators full access to the sites of purported chemical weapons attacks. The Syrian foreign minister said this agreement goes into effect immediately.

KEILAR: And we're joined now by CNN chief congressional correspondent Dana Bash. She is in Washington. And Dana, obviously this move is very heavy with implications because it goes to the heart of the question, who was responsible for the chemical weapons attacks.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right, I mean. And even more basic is did the chemical weapons attack actually happen? We have that report from outside government and from groups who were there, but this is very, very important. Because part of the problem and the pickle that President Obama and his administration is in right now is that you have finger pointing, you have the Syrian government saying no, the rebels did it and the rebels saying no, the Syrian government did it. So obviously this is really the key.

This is why the U.N. sent inspectors to Damascus to be there in order to try to get to the bottom of what happened. So this -- you know, Brianna, you cover the White House, this could make life easier or maybe depending on what they find a lot harder for the President in trying to figure out the policy which he has had some criticism about because people have said that he's just been too quiet and be too tentative about it. WATSON: And it's important to note that the allegations that chemical weapons were used with death tolls we've seen of up to 1,300 dead according to the rebels. If this was in fact true, this would be the deadliest use of chemical weapons really Saddam Hussein gassed Iraqi Kurds in Northern Iraq in the late 1980s. It would really dramatically change the equation. So if there is any truth to these allegations, if the U.N. inspectors can learn anything here, will the Obama administration be ready to move Dana?

BASH: Well, they're getting ready to move. We're going to talk on the "STATE OF THE UNION" in a little while, with our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, who's been talking to his sources about the kinds of plans that are getting into place at the Pentagon. Certainly they've done this before. It's not unusual to have contingency plans.

But he's reporting from his sources that this time it's different; that they have sort of a more aggressive posture. And of course, just the fact that the President yesterday on a Saturday called in his National Security Council to have a meeting kind of says it all about the kind of concern that you see inside the White House that as you said, that this is a very, very dire situation and has the potential to land on his plate and to force a decision that certainly somebody who ran on a very strong anti-war plank when he first ran for president does not necessarily want to be making.

WATSON: That's right. And also worth noting that the Obama administration has been very reluctant to get involved in the Syrian civil war, which has been going on for more than two years, saying the he needs to wind down the Afghan war right now. And also worth noting, that both Washington, the Russian government which backs the Syrian regime, the rebels, the Syrian government, they're all in agreement that prior to this deadly incident this last week, chemical weapons have been used on the Syrian battlefield, the difference here is the scale of the reported death toll, right -- Dana?

BASH: Exactly, and that really could speak to the way the American public reacts to this and that really can fuel the kind of hand that the President has to act, militarily or otherwise, because the backdrop here in the United States, of course, has been a very war weary public. People are just sick of it, with the war in Afghanistan as you mentioned going on for more than a decade, obviously it's pretty much winded down, but you have the Iraq war and people are just kind of over it.

But if you have this kind of news, with this kind of death to toll, it is a scary thing. And for people who are kind of at the beach and doing their thing in August, coming back and seeing this news, depending on what the U.N. inspectors find, that could really change the dynamic with regard to public opinion in the U.S. which, of course, again could change the dynamic inside the White House.

KEILAR: And we'll see if that change is happening. We heard from David Gergen yesterday. He said you heard the foreign policy sort of, I guess, analogy is walk softly and carry a big stick, he said that President Obama is in danger of walking loudly and carrying a small stick. So we'll see if perhaps that does turn around.

Dana Bash -- thank you so much.

BASH: Thank you.

WATSON: And it's also important to note that there's a shortage of kind of objective reporting coming from there, because this is still an active battle zone -- the areas where the chemical weapons are said to have hit.

But we do know that the organization Doctors without Borders, it supplies at least three hospitals in that area and it has reported that those hospitals received more than 3,000 cases of people seeming to have some kind of nerve toxic symptoms and that more than 300 of them died.

KEILAR: And this is obviously an alleged wide scale attack. We know that there's been this -- believed to be a smaller scale chemical weapons attack in the past. This U.N. team that is going in -- because this is the headline right now that the Syrian regime is going to let the inspectors in to this area allegedly affected by this attack. They have said in the past they believe that small scale attack was done at the hands of the Assad regime. So we'll see what they come up with on this alleged larger scale attack.

Also and -- we're going to move on now at this point to talk about travel this Labor Day, because it's expected to soar. So if you're looking for last-minute details we'll tell you what to expect on the roads and how to reach your destination on the cheap.

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KEILAR: It's almost the end of summer, but you still have time to book that last-minute get away for Labor Day weekend. And according to AAA, more people are planning to travel than in years past.

WATSON: Yes. It's going to be busy out there. So CNN's Alison Kosik joins us live. Alison -- what can people expect next weekend?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Bring a lot of patience. There's going to be a lot of people traveling, more than last year -- 34 million people in total, on the roads, in the air. So once again bring your patience. If you're looking for deals on air fares, here's the trick at least this time around if you're procrastinating long enough to get that plane ticket.

Keep in mind that most people are going to be leaving on their Labor Day weekend this Friday and then returning on Monday September 2. So if you're looking to catch a deal as far as an air fare goes, try to travel on a different day when you may, may be able to get a cheaper fare -- Ivan and Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Alison Kosik -- and so what is it, can you tell us real quick before we go. We have like 20 seconds -- best way to travel. KOSIK: Best way to travel, you know, it depends how far you're going. Obviously getting in your car may be the cheapest way to go simply because gas prices relatively speaking are lower at $3.53 a gallon.

KEILAR: All right, good to know. Alison Kosik, thank you so much. Are you going to go on a trip maybe? Go home to Istanbul?

WATSON: Go back to the Middle East -- somehow I don't imagine it's going to be very relaxing.

KEILAR: No, it will not be. But it's been so nice hanging out with you -- Ivan.

WATSON: It is -- thanks for letting me join.

KEILAR: Yes. And thanks for watching today. "STATE OF THE UNION" starts now.

BASH: I'm Dana Bash in for Candy Crowley and this is "STATE OF THE UNION".