A 'nuclear option' scenario of the Parades Commission banning a return parade past Ardoyne on the Twelfth is being seen as the motivation for a last-minute talks initiative.
The dialogue will involve representatives of the Orange Order and nationalist residents.
And with that decision, the Parades Commission is allowing space to see what develops.
The Orange Order yesterday confirmed it will engage in face-to-face talks with a residents' group ahead of the contentious feeder parade.
The move came after an appeal from Twaddell and Woodvale Residents Association to three Orange lodges to speak to the Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association.
First Minister Peter Robinson hailed the "significance of the positive engagement" and North Belfast MLAs Gerry Kelly and Alban Maginness welcomed the move.
One source said: "There's lots of speculation that no return is an option, but nothing is certain. It's out there very clearly on both sides."
But loyalist Winston Irvine rejected any suggestion of last-minute panic or manoeuvring.
He said it was a genuine effort to build on "back channel discussions" and the successful outcome to parades in the north, west and east of the city.
The PUP spokesman said the dialogue offer was "the crossing of a very important Rubicon".
On the possibility of no return march, he added: "There would be a huge fear if that was to be in any way the reality ... it would be a disaster."
He said the local Orange lodges had "stretched themselves last year" by agreeing to come back early from the field.
On the decision to talk with one of the residents' groups, CARA – Crumlin and Ardoyne Residents Association – he added: "The residents' group that has the support of the local elected representatives is CARA."
The other group GARC – Greater Ardoyne Residents Collective – has dismissed the initiative as "a cynical ploy to dictate a loyalist agenda".
In a statement, it said: "If the loyal orders are serious about real and meaningful talks they must first speak directly to those who represent the majority of residents in the greater Ardoyne area. Otherwise, any other avenue would be a waste of time and doomed to failure."
Others are expressing concerns that the last minute nature of the talks is a bid to delay a Parades Commission ruling.
But another source said: "Irrespective of how they got to this point, it's important."
Asked for his view of what the Parades Commission might decide, he added: "My gut is it is veering towards some more restrictions."
And he described the possibility of a no return ruling as a "bit of a nuclear option".
Meanwhile, a loyalist source warned that any decision not to allow a return march would "give the public outrage around the flag protests a second wind".
The Parades Commission yesterday confirmed it had delayed a decision on the feeder march until next week.