The Trump administration yesterday called for a power-sharing transitional government in Venezuela made up of the opposition and some members of President Nicolás Maduro's Socialist Party.
They also laid out for the first time how US sanctions might be lifted, including on the vital oil sector.
With the South American nation squeezed by a US economic pressure campaign, low world oil prices and a spreading coronavirus pandemic, Washington unveiled a more toned-down approach aimed at promoting fair elections this year to end the political crisis there, US officials said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was due to formally announce the administration's "Democratic Transition Framework" for Venezuela, which, according to a document seen by Reuters, offers a detailed, "sequenced exit path" from tough US sanctions if Mr Maduro and his allies co-operate.
But it will be no easy task to draw Mr Maduro, who holds onto power despite escalation of US efforts to oust him and who has shown no willingness to end his rule, onto a path of political reconciliation.
The initiative comes less than a week after the US government took a more confrontational tack, indicting Mr Maduro and more than a dozen other current and former top Venezuelan officials on charges of "narco-terrorism", accusations he dismissed as false and racist.
Mr Maduro's staying power has become a source of frustration for Donald Trump, US officials have said privately.
Mr Maduro retains the backing of the military as well as Russia, China and Cuba.
"The regime is now under heavier pressure than it has ever been," US special representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams told Reuters, previewing the plan.
"Maybe this pressure will lead to a serious discussion within the regime."
The US proposal, which Mr Abrams said was approved by Mr Trump, calls for Mr Maduro to "step aside" and for the opposition-controlled National Assembly "to elect an inclusive transitional government acceptable to the major factions" and then oversee elections in late 2020.
But in what appears to be a softening of tone toward Mr Maduro, Mr Abrams said the plan did not call for him to be forced into exile and even suggested that he "could theoretically run" for office in the election.