Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon June 30, 2012 (Reuters)
Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon in Geneva, June 30, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Russia, the U.S. and other major powers have begun closed-door talks aimed at finding a political solution for Syria and ending 16 months of brutal violence.

International envoy Kofi Annan was on Saturday convening the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. - along with other envoys for Europe, the Middle East, China, the Arab League and representatives of three Arab countries.

Russia's determination to preserve its last remaining ally in the Middle East collides head-on with U.S. and other Western powers' desire to replace Syrian President Bashar Assad with a democracy.

The UN-brokered conference is seen as a last-ditch effort at bridging the Russia-U.S. divide - key to Annan's plan for easing power from Assad's grip through a political solution