The Syrian government will attend January peace talks in Geneva but will not yield to Western demands for President Bashar al-Assad to resign, a foreign ministry source has said.

In the Syrian government's first formal response to the announcement of the "Geneva 2" peace conference on 22 January arranged by the UN, the US and Russia, Damascus said the demand to relinquish power was "colonialist".

The aim of the conference is to agree a transitional government to end the two-year conflict which has resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 people, displaced over two million and destabilised the neighbouring region.

In response to Western government claims that Assad no longer had the legitimacy to rule Syria, the foreign ministry source said: "The age of colonialism, with the installation and toppling of governments, is over. They must wake from their dreams."

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

The Syrian delegation would express "the wishes of the Syrian people, foremost among them the elimination of terrorism" - a reiteration of the Damascus line that anti-government rebels were just terrorists.

The government made its stand on Geneva 2 a day after the Free Syrian Army pledged to continue the fight against Assad throughout the Geneva negotiations and Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif declared that Iran would be willing to join the talks if invited.