Published Wednesday, 12 March 2014
Dr Richard Haass gives evidence in the House of Representatives in Washington. (© UTV)
The former talks chairman was left disappointed when months of negotiations failed to result in an agreement on how to deal with controversial and divisive issues like flags, parades and the past.
"Where do things go from here?" Dr Haass said, as he gave evidence to a committee in the House of Representatives on Tuesday.
It is a question that has been the subject of much debate - particularly when the political situation further destabilised over the on-the-runs situation.
"I have no crystal ball, but I agree with the First Minister when he says that the three issues at the centre of the talks are issues that have to be dealt with," Dr Haass continued.
"To this I would add a sense of urgency.
"The passage of time will not by itself heal Northern Ireland's society or make it more normal or bring it together."
Absent political progress, the passage of time will only create an environment in which social division intensifies, violence increases, investment is scared off, alienation grows, and the best and brightest leave to make their futures elsewhere.
Dr Richard Haass
According to the US diplomat, Northern Ireland has come a long way along the road to peace - but it still has a long way to go.
"Much of the world looks to Northern Ireland as a model of peace-building, and many in Northern Ireland like to be so viewed. But all this is premature," Dr Haass said.
"Yes, the society has come a long way from where it was two decades ago, but it still has a long ways to go before it can set an example others will want to emulate."
And according to Dr Haass, it is up to the political leaders to decide Northern Ireland's future.
"The stakes are great. Largely depending upon what they choose to do, the future of Northern Ireland will either be that of a vicious circle or a virtuous one," he said.
"I hope they make the right choice, and make it soon."
While a document has been published detailing the recommendations to come out of the Haass talks in Belfast, Dr Haass told the congressional hearing that it was not necessarily his answer.
He said the document put forward his best efforts to deal with the issues while keeping all the invested parties on board - but he may publish his personal recommendations in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson and Sinn Féin deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness are in the US on a five-day visit aimed at strengthening business and tourism links.
© UTV News