Syrian foreign minister sees 'real chance' for political settlement

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syria’s foreign minister said on Thursday there was a “real chance” to reach a political settlement of the Syrian conflict, after Damascus’s ally Russia announced a ceasefire deal that was to take effect at midnight.

Walid al-Moualem also said Syria would attend planned peace talks in Kazakhstan “with an open mind”.

“Everything is open for discussion, with the exception of national sovereignty, and the people’s right to choose its leadership,” he said in a live interview on state television.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a ceasefire between Syrian opposition groups and the government starting at midnight (2200 GMT on Thursday), and said the parties were also prepared to start peace talks.

No date has been announced for the talks in Astana, the Kazakh capital.

The Syrian army said fighting would halt nationwide, but that Islamic State, former al Qaeda militants and groups linked to them were excluded from the deal. Rebels said only Islamic State was excluded.

“It is the duty of the factions (rebel groups) who have signed it to distance themselves from, and declare that they are not linked to, the Nusra Front or Daesh (Islamic State),” Moualem said.

The close geographical proximity of rebel factions to former al Qaeda affiliate the Nusra Front has complicated previous ceasefire efforts.

Reporting by John Davison and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Larry King