Speaking to UTV political correspondent Tracey Magee in New York, the American diplomat said the First and deputy First Ministers have been supportive of the process despite the row over the Maze Long Kesh development.
Dr Haass held discussions with the power-sharing leaders on Wednesday night, as Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are in the city on a trade mission.
The leaders have set aside their political differences to put on a united front during appointments at the New York Stock Exchange and at an American Ireland Fund benefit event in Manhattan this week, and on a meeting with mayor Michael Bloomberg.
I feel that this is a real opportunity, for the people, the citizens, the leadership of Northern Ireland, to make progress and to build on what has been accomplished.
Dr Richard Haass
"This came from the leadership of the executive, and both Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness are central to it and the few meetings we've had a few weeks ago in Belfast, now today, we'll meet again next week, are indicative of their personal as well as political commitment to see that progress is realised," he said.
The former US envoy said the talks that he will chair in NI will be ambitious but he was hopeful of their outcome.
The all-party talks at Stormont, aim to resolving contentious issues, such as parades, flags and emblems and dealing with the past.
"The past is an extraordinarily complex issue, a lot of people have a stake in it, there's a lot of history there by definition. And the question is, how can you can deal with it in a way that also allows you to move forward to tackle the issues that are confronting Northern Ireland today and will confront Northern Ireland in the future," he explained.
Dr Haass said that the region has had a "difficult year" but not bad one when put in the context of the past.
"Here is 2013, compared to when I last worked these set of issues, then as the US envoy, now as independent chair, there has been remarkable progress," he commented.
"The baseline, if you will, in Northern Ireland is far better than it was, you've got standing political institutions that have real political and economic authority- none of that was the case then.
"For all the violence, this year and yes there was significant violence, it was a different quality and quantity of violence from a decade, much less two or three ago."
Dr Haass added: "Expectations don't bother me, but I really believe that at the end of the day, more important than me or any outsider, be it George Mitchell (chaired Belfast Agreement talks) before me or anyone else, is the ability and willingness of political leaders to negotiate in good faith, to make compromises and then to turnaround and defend those compromises to their various constituencies."
In an effort to be inclusive, Dr Haass and his team are inviting submissions from members of the public on a specially developed website.
UTV’s Tracey Magee, in her blog from New York
But Dr Haass admitted that there was some "urgency" and that there should not be complacency because of any previous progress.
"We got a little bit of a glimpse over the last six to nine months that things could slide back, if people act badly, if people do not act responsibly.
"So I'm hoping that creates a context where perhaps there is a greater will to make some difficult choices and to defend some difficult choices publicly than perhaps would have been the case otherwise."
Dr Haass said all parties have been asked to put forward ideas in writing for the discussions, his team will put forward ideas and input from outside will also be factored in.
The talks chief said politicians would ultimately have to decide towards the end of the process if they can commit to recommendations.