The former US diplomat striving to forge political agreement on peace process issues in Northern Ireland has insisted there is a real chance of achieving meaningful progress.
Dr Richard Haass has said that consultations this week with Stormont's main parties and the British and Irish governments had made him optimistic that the talks initiative could deliver a positive outcome.
Dr Haass has been tasked with finding resolution to long-standing disputes on flags, parades and dealing with the legacy of the Troubles.
He has been on a number of fact-finding missions but has signalled an intent to begin negotiations in earnest when he returns to Belfast in two weeks.
Assessing the state of play at the conclusion of his latest trip, Dr Haass said:
"I continue to believe there is good chance, a real chance of achieving meaningful progress."
As well as consulting with politicians, Dr Haass and his team have met with between 50 and 60 interest groups in Northern Ireland.
They have received around 400 submissions to an online consultation.
"I think everyone understands the opportunity and the importance of realising progress," he said.
He said the process would now focus in on face-to-face talks involving the five parties that make up Stormont's mandatory power-sharing coalition.
He said: " the talks will enter a new phase starting in two weeks when we return, and it will, if you will, become much more a negotiating phase rather than simply a consultative phase."
Dr Haass, who was envoy to Northern Ireland between 2001 and 2003 under George W Bush's presidency, has an end-of-the-year deadline to try to achieve some form of consensus.
As well as meeting the five main Stormont parties, during his latest trip the ex-diplomat flew to London for talks with Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers.
Yesterday, Dr Haass travelled to Dublin to meet the Taoiseach and Tánaiste.
Dr Haass, who is the current president of US think-tank the Council for Foreign Relations, has already briefed Prime Minister David Cameron on a previous visit to London.
Today he admitted he had been on "steep learning curve" since fully re-engaging with Northern Ireland politics a decade on from his time as envoy.
But he said his previous experience in the region provided motivation in his current role.
"I feel invested here, I genuinely care about it, I have made friends here," he said.
Dr Haass stressed it was to early too give an opinion on whether any final set of proposals would need to be validated by the public, potentially in the form of a referendum.
He responded to criticism from Jim Allister, leader of the hard-line Traditional Unionist Voice party (which is not a member of the Executive), who had questioned his decision to consult with the Dublin administration.
Dr Haass insisted he had no political agenda and said it would have been "foolish" for him not to canvas thoughts from both the British and Irish governments.
He said he was employing lessons from working in other conflict resolution processes around the world.
Dr Haass stressed that Northern Ireland had its own unique set of circumstances.
He indicated his support for some future vehicle through which people who suffered in the Troubles could record or document their experiences.