The talks, in Manhasset near New York City in the US, bring together representatives of the Moroccan government and the Polisario Front.

Rabat has claimed sovereignty over the territory since it ceased to be a Spanish colony in 1975. It now proposes that the region becomes an autonomous region of the kingdom.

The Polisario champions independence for what it calls the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. It has consistently called for a referendum to resolve the status of the area, which the UN defines as a non-self-governing territory.

“It will be the last opportunity Polisario offers Morocco,” Mohamed Yasslim, the Polisario’s envoy to Algeria, said in December. “Preparations for war are afoot at all levels.”

The talks are the third since negotiations resumed in mid-2007.

In a separate development, Morocco resumed diplomatic ties with Senegal on 4 January. It had withdrawn its ambassador to Dakar in December over comments made by a Senegalese opposition party member, Jacques Baudin, in support of Western Saharan independence.