Haass flies in to begin 'ambitious' North peace talks
Peace process gains in the North cannot be taken for granted, and much work is needed to address the unresolved issues facing the region, a former US diplomat said as he arrived in Belfast to chair a new political talks initiative.
Dr Richard Haass has begun the first round of negotiations aimed at resolving three of the most divisive problems facing the power-sharing institutions in Stormont.
Supported by US foreign affairs expert Dr Meghan O'Sullivan, he is trying to find consensus on the contentious matters of flags and emblems, parades and dealing with the legacy of the past.
The former White House special envoy acknowledged that a troubled summer in the North, when simmering community tensions boiled over into riots, was indicative of the urgency around finding an agreed way forward.
Dr Haass began meeting political representatives from the five Stormont Executive parties at Belfast's Europa Hotel yesterday, beginning with Sinn Fein and followed by the SDLP.
Dr Haass said the agenda and timetable was "ambitious but possible".
The Haass talks are being billed as the most important since the Hillsborough negotiations when responsibilities for policing and justice were devolved to Stormont.
Last week Dr Haass met First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness in New York. After meeting Dr Haass yesterday, Mr McGuinness expressed optimism that resolution could be obtained.
"If there's a will, these issues are resolvable," he said.
"I think we are all agreed that dealing with the issues of the past might be the most difficult, but if people come at this with a good heart, then we can prog-ress."