**US Lawmakers Hold Last-Minute Fiscal Talks**
U.S. lawmakers reconvene Monday for last-minute talks to avoid the so-called "fiscal cliff" of sharp tax increases and spending cuts that would take effect January 1.
Any agreement would likely first pass through the Senate, which goes into session just before midday, after extensive talks Sunday yielded little progress.
Vice President Joe Biden held negotiations with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as Democrats and Republicans tried to resolve their differences over tax rates for the rich and federal spending cuts.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Sunday the divide was "significant," while McConnell said the sticking point appeared to be "a willingness, an interest or courage" among lawmakers to arrive at an agreement.
If the Democrat-controlled Senate votes for a compromise deal, the Republican-led House would have to approve the measure. The president could then sign it late Monday, avoiding having automatic tax increases on nearly all Americans kick in Tuesday.
** Brahimi: Without Diplomacy, Syria Conflict May Kill 100,000**
International peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi has warned 100,000 people could die in Syria in the next year unless world powers press the Syrian government and rebels to negotiate an end to their 21-month conflict.
Speaking Sunday in Cairo, Brahimi said the warring sides are not speaking to each other, despite his recent intensified diplomatic efforts to promote a peace plan approved by world and regional powers last June in Geneva. The U.N.-Arab League envoy said "help is needed from the outside" to start a Syrian national dialogue based on that plan.
The Brahimi says the situation in Syria is deteriorating and if the civil war continues, Syria will turn into a Somalia-style failed state ruled by warlords.
The Geneva plan calls for all sides in Syria to end hostilities, enter a national dialogue, and form a transitional government leading to new elections. It says nothing about the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, an omission that appears to have stalled its progress.