A new peace envoy from the United States will head up talks in Northern Ireland aimed at resolving the toughest issues remaining in the peace process amid signs that the process is in increasing difficulty. He will report his findings by the end of the year.

Richard Haass, who was George Bush’s envoy to Northern  Ireland from 2001 to 2003 and was highly regarded in that role, will take over the new job.

He will lead negotiations that will attempt to achieve breakthroughs on a long list of issues that have not been resolved since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

Among the issues are how to handle provocative parades which lead to massive intercommunal violence still, how to defuse the flags issue which has also led to widespread violence and how to deal with unsolved crimes of the conflict.

The latter issue is on the front burner at the moment after Northern Irish police won a court battle to acquire tapes used in a Boston College oral history project which participants thought were beyond their reach.

Recently too John Downey, a Sinn Fein member, was arrested for the Hyde Park bombings in 1982 despite the fact that he had received a letter of assurance that he would not be prosecuted under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement.

Haass, 61, is head of the Council of Foreign Relations the prestigious New York based think tank. He was widely praised for his work in the north. He is a former senior official in the U.S. State Department.

AP reports that the leaders of Northern Ireland’s power-sharing government, First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, said in a joint statement they were ‘‘deeply grateful’’ that Haass was returning to Belfast. They said Haass would be expected to publish recommendations by the end of the year that ‘‘provide long-term and sustainable solutions.’’

No date for the start of talks has been announced.

His return sparks many memories of the key role that George Mitchell played in resolving the conflict. Mitchell spent four years in Northern Ireland from 1994 to 1998 and played a huge role in securing the Good Friday Agreement.