The US is considering sanctions relief for Iran as a first step towards reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, it was reported.
Speculation that President Joe Biden's administration will make the first move to revive the agreement came after a European initiative to bring all parties to the deal together on an informal basis was raised.
With Iran's economy handicapped by the heavy sanctions imposed by Mr Biden's predecessor Donald Trump, costing it a reported $150 billion, lifting the penalties would provide considerable relief to the government.
In return for its departure from Mr Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, the White House would expect significant compromises from Tehran.
While US sources indicated that sanctions would be lifted, they said that direct talks must first take place.
"Sanctions relief is definitely coming, not today or tomorrow but it is coming," a national security source told The Sunday Times.
The lifting of sanctions was a major demand from Tehran before any negotiations take place, and Mr Biden’s team is in a difficult position as it was Mr Trump who withdrew the US from the 2015 nuclear deal in 2018.
“The onus is on the US to take steps that would demonstrate to Iran that it is a reliable negotiating partner,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, who is close to the US administration.
“It is hard to imagine that anything short of a meaningful economic reprieve would get Iran’s attention.”
The US has made clear that as part of any future deal it will require commitments from Iran to halt its ballistic missile programme, and to end its support for proxy terrorist groups across the Middle East.
Iran has given no indication it would agree to the conditions.
The US overtures came despite Iran violating the 2015 agreement by enriching uranium and threatening to bar international inspectors’ visits to undeclared nuclear facilities.
While Mr Biden is keen to strike a deal there is considerable opposition from those who supported Mr Trump's strategy of maximum pressure.
“It would be a huge mistake to return to the conditions of the 2015 deal and not push for something more comprehensive,” said Gen Jack Keane, a former adviser to Mr Trump.
“The Iranians think Biden is just a continuity Barack Obama, whose general policy was appeasement, not confrontation.”
Last week, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanded "action, not words" from the US if it wanted to revive Tehran's deal with world powers.
Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s Foreign Minister, also suggested that the European Union could be used to initiate the first moves to bring the US and Iran back to the deal.
The EU has proposed an informal meeting between Iran and the countries that negotiated the 2015 deal, including the US.
Iran has yet to reply formally to the initiative but Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Saturday that the regime was considering the idea and would “respond to this proposal in the future”.
“However, we believe a US return to the nuclear accord does not require a meeting and the only way for it is to lift the sanctions,” he said.
The White House said on Friday that the proposed informal discussion was "simply an invitation to have a conversation, a diplomatic conversation".