Haass talks:' Sense of urgency' ahead of intense negotiations

Richard Haass said making progress was "do-able" and "necessary"

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Richard Haass has said there is "a sense of urgency" in talks aimed at resolving disputes over flags, parades and the legacy of the Troubles.

The US diplomat has returned to Northern Ireland 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 said making progress on the issues was both "do-able" and "necessary".

"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," Dr Haass told a Belfast news conference.

"Our goal has been, and our goal remains, to reach a meaningful agreement before Christmas," he said.

"We continue to believe that, with commitment from our five parties in the Executive here, this goal remains do-able," Dr Haass added.

"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.

The BBC asked Dr Haass what had prompted him to ask political parties about the potential creation of a new flag for Northern Ireland.

The talks chairman had raised the issue in a questionnaire that he sent to the parties a number of weeks ago.

Dr Haass said the issue of flags was central to his writ and had "come up frequently in the conversations and with more than a little intensity".

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