‘Syria won’t surrender power at talks’

The "Geneva 2" conference will have the stated goal of agreeing a transitional government.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Picture: AFP.

BEIRUT - Syrian authorities will attend talks in January aimed at resolving the civil war but will not succumb to Western demands for President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, a Foreign Ministry source said on Wednesday.

It was the first formal response from Damascus to this week's announcement of a 22 January peace conference in Geneva, convened by the United Nations, Russia and the United States.

The "Geneva 2" conference will have the stated goal of agreeing a transitional government to end the 2-1/2-year-old conflict that has killed well over 100,000 people and displaced millions.

Responding to insistence by some Western and Arab states that Assad has lost legitimacy to rule, the source said: "The age of colonialism, with the installation and toppling of governments, is over. They must wake from their dreams.

"If they insist on these delusions, there is no need for them to attend Geneva 2," said the source in a statement carried by the official SANA news agency. "The official Syrian delegation is not going to Geneva to surrender power."

The government delegation would convey "the wishes of the Syrian people, foremost among them the elimination of terrorism" - a reference to the battle against rebels fighting to overthrow Assad.