A United States diplomat has accepted an invitation to chair talks in Northern Ireland about contentious issues including flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of The Troubles.

Dr Richard Haass, who was the Northern Ireland envoy of the Bush administration from 2001 to 2003, was asked to take on the talks' chairman role by Northern First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.

Announcing the appointment, Mr Robinson and Mr McGuinness said "an all-party group, under the chairmanship of Dr Haass, will seek to bring forward a set of recommendations by the end of the year on parades and protests, flags, symbols and emblems and related matters stemming from the past in order to make the peace more resilient."

They also said: "We are deeply grateful that an international figure of Dr Haass's standing has agreed to facilitate these important discussions which we hope will provide long term and sustainable solutions that are in the best interests of the community."

Since returning to Washington ten years ago, Richard Haass has been president of the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent think tank.