The man who is to chair all-party talks on some of the most divisive issues confronting Northern Ireland has said most Americans were surprised he was asked to do the job.
US diplomat Richard Haass said most people thought the conflict had been resolved.
Next week, Dr Hass will host all-party talks on the controversial issues of flags, parading and the past.
He said he hoped to make any recommendations by the end of the year.
In a conference call for journalists, Dr Haass said there was some concern in the USA about recent tensions but given the problems elsewhere, Northern Ireland was not at the top of the US agenda.
The former US envoy to Northern Ireland said his first two trips, next week and in October, will be information-gathering exercises.
Then, in November and December, he will move towards trying to produce a report.
Dr Haass said he was keen to hear ideas about the future including segregated housing and schooling and has indicated he will stick to his deadline for making recommendations.
He said that would provide "ample time" for parties and groups to air their positions and come up with potential compromises.
Previously, Dr Haass has said he also wanted to hear from members of the public.
Northern Ireland's first and deputy first ministers have held talks with Dr Haass, during their visit to America this week.