Politicians in Northern Ireland have been warned they have until Good Friday to come to a power sharing agreement or face direct rule from Westminster.
James Brokenshire set a deadline of Easter weekend for the parties to agree a new arrangement after failing to broker a deal following the snap election in March.
The tight timetable will prompt comparisons with the fraught process ahead of the original Good Friday agreement in 1998.
The Northern Ireland secretary said public services in the country need certainty and warned he is prepared to draw up legislation to take control if no deal is struck.
But his remarks prompted anger among Sinn Fein politicians, who blamed ministers in Westminster for failing to focus on the key issues blocking a deal including Irish language protections and how to deal with the legacy of the Troubles.
Mr Brokenshire said progress had been made but he conceded: "There are some key issues that do remain outstanding, therefore if we are to get the resolution that we need I think we need that sense of compromise and that sense of the bigger picture."
Speaking of the need to provide certainty he added: "I need to make decisions over the Easter period to bring legislation forward at Westminster, that is the timeline I am working to.
"It is that Easter focus that I have on needing for me to take decisions and therefore to introduce legislation there afterwards so that we can get on with the job, get an executive back in place and, equally for me, if we don't see that, to start to make decisions about what further contingencies may need to be put into place."
On Wednesday, Sinn Fein gave a bleak assessment of where the talks stood, claiming there had been no progress in the first three days of negotiations.
The Democratic Unionists hit back, accusing the republican party of peddling "doom and gloom" and questioning whether it was actually committed to the restoration of devolution.
The two main parties are taking part in discussions along with Stormont's other three main parties - the Ulster Unionists, SDLP and Alliance Party - and the UK and Irish governments.
The parties missed a deadline to get a government up and running within three weeks of March's snap Assembly election.
Devolution crashed in January over a row about a botched green energy scheme.
Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy accused the British government of blocking progress in the talks.
He said: "If James Brokenshire wants to ensure public services run smoothly in the north then it's time he and his government lived up to their responsibilities to implement previous agreements."