THE senior US diplomat parachuted into Northern Ireland to help solve the issues of parades, flags and the past admitted he has a tough task on his trying to get a deal by the end of the year.
But Dr Richard Haass said he believed if there was willingness by politicians to work together there was a way to break the impasse.
Mr Haass jetted into Belfast on Tuesday afternoon to chair inter-party talks on the thorny issues.
He said he has a “limited but ambitious” agenda to conclude his talks and have an agreed formula together by the end of the year.
Dr Haass said there had been real progress in Northern Ireland since the Good Friday Agreement.
However, he added: “There is still a real need to move things forward”.
The five Stormont executive parties will be represented at the talks.
First in to meet Dr Haass and his team in the Europa Hotel on Tuesday was Sinn Fein led by deputy first minister Martin McGuinness.
They were later followed into the private suite by the SDLP led by party leader Dr Alasdair McDonnell.
Dr Haass is assisted by Harvard professor Meghan O’Sullivan and Charles Landow, an official at Dr Haass’s New York think tank.
Before the meetings, Dr Hass told a press conference in the Europa Hotel that he hoped to “make measureable progress in all three areas”.
However, he said that the parties had to make their own compromises in an effort to move the process forward.
“We will do our best to come up with compromises but at the end of the day no outsider can substitute for the willingness and the ability of the insiders to sign on, to put it bluntly, and to sell it to the people they represent,” he said.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the years working in various negotiations is that often the single most important factor is not necessarily the detail of this or that formula but rather the willingness and ability of the leadership and respective sides in an issue to be willing to make compromises, and be in a position, to be sufficiently strong, to make the case for those compromises with their own respective constituencies. I think that’s as true here as it is anywhere.
“The fact that this process was created by the leadership in Northern Ireland suggests to me there is will.
“I have yet to meet politicians who create political processes that will ask them to confront difficult decisions unless there is a degree of will.
“I begin from the supposition that we wouldn’t be here unless there was a mixture of concern, but also commitment to accomplish things.
“The goal is to come up with, before year’s end, a consensus document that ideally would be both broad and deep, dealing with these three sets of issues.”
Dr Haass said that often the progress made in Northern Ireland has been forgotten.
“Here we are 15 years after the Good Friday Agreement, and there has been I believe meaningful progress across the board, and I think it is something that often goes unsaid, but it ought not to – this has now become the new normal.
“There are obviously unresolved issues and unresolved tensions or you wouldn’t have had the violence you have had this summer or you wouldn’t have had these lingering and persistent political differences.
“The fact that the calendar was set, that it’s not an open-ended process, that it is to be done before year’s end, made it possible.
“It’s ambitious but possible and I think that’s an important focus.”
On Wednesday, Haass’s team will be meet the DUP and UUP at the Europa Hotel.