IT could become the biggest gamble in Richard Haass’s diplomatic career – trying to solve the underlying causes of Northern Ireland’s deep rooted problems.
But Dr Haass has given himself a fortnight to try and break the logjam of resolving disputes over flags, parades and the past.
The US diplomat returned to Northern Ireland on Monday for what he said would be an “intense two weeks of deliberations and negotiations”.
He is to hold three separate meetings on each of the three issues with each of the five biggest political parties.
He told a news conference in Belfast: “What we expect is people to come to these meetings, prepared to address these meetings in detail. I want to leave you with a sense of urgency.
“Our goal has been, and our goal remains, to reach a meaningful agreement before Christmas.
“We continue to believe that, with commitment from our five parties in the Executive here, this goal remains do-able.
“I’ve heard some say that I am optimistic, others have described us as ambitious. I can live with both of these descriptions, but to them I would add realistic.
“Meghan O’Sullivan and I would not have taken on these talks and these responsibilities if we judge that a meaningful agreement would out of reach,” he said.
Dr Haass told reporters that to date, he and talks vice-chair Ms O’Sullivan had held more than 100 meetings and spoken to 500 people during the negotiations.
They have also received more than 600 submissions from individuals and groups who put forward ideas on how to resolve disputes over flags, parades and the past.