WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Talks to end sectarian violence in Northern Ireland "have reached a critical juncture," the White House said Sunday.
U.S. National Security Council spokeswoman issued a statement saying, "Talks led by independent chair [and U.S. diplomat] Richard Haass with the five parties of the Northern Ireland Executive have reached a critical juncture. The goal has been and remains to reach agreement before the end of the year on new arrangements for parading, flags, and contending with the legacy of past violence.
She added, "Initiating these talks demonstrated the commitment of the parties and people of Northern Ireland to move forward on tough issues. We are confident that a solution can be reached if there is political will on all sides."
She also said the United States calls "upon the leadership of the five parties to make the compromises necessary to conclude an agreement now, one that would help heal the divisions that continue to stand between the people of Northern Ireland and the future they deserve."
In Northern Ireland, Haass said Saturday negotiators need to "fish or cut bait" in talks on sectarian issues.
Haass, who served as U.S. special envoy to Northern Ireland from 2001 to 2003, was invited to return by the province's government in July after an uptick in sectarian violence.
He returned early from Christmas vacation in an effort to get a speedy agreement, the Belfast Telegraph reported.
A decision by the Belfast City Council in 2012 to limit the number of days the British flag may be flown at City Hall set off loyalist rioting. Another decision this summer to reroute a loyalist parade set off more violence.
Haass said he has scheduled 24 meetings during the weekend with a final session to start at 6 a.m. Monday.