The FBI flew a "freemen" leader to Billings Tuesday to confer with a jailed comrade about a possible surrender by the 17 people remaining at the ranch surrounded by federal agents.
The FBI said it arranged safe passage for Edwin Clark to the jail in Billings where LeRoy Schweitzer is being held. The arrest of Schweitzer and another freemen leader more than two months ago sparked the 79-day standoff.
After Clark's return later Tuesday, an FBI convoy entered the ranch and most of the freemen could be seen entering a barn, presumably to discuss the surrender proposal.
Clark took the proposal to Billings for Schweitzer to review and discuss, according to a senior federal official in Washington who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Edwin had to become at peace with LeRoy about it," another source told the Associated Press. "He didn't want to go forward without checking with LeRoy first."
The source, who requested anonymity, said the visit with Schweitzer is part of a larger proposal between the FBI and freemen that could bring the standoff to a peaceful conclusion.
"They've pretty much agreed it won't be a gun battle," the source said. "I'm extremely hopeful at this point. It's an extremely positive sign."
The senior official in Washington, however, cautioned that the agreement still could fall through.
The FBI convoy returned to the compound Tuesday evening, and a vehicle drove up to Clark's house. Later, there was an unusual amount of activity, with people and vehicles moving among the various buildings, and reporters saw at least 11 people gather at a barn, presumably to hold a meeting to discuss Clark's Billings visit.
The freemen at the ranch had requested earlier that a representative be allowed to meet with Schweitzer, who was arrested March 25 on federal charges of fraud and other crimes.
Accompanying Clark to Billings were three negotiators from the CAUSE Foundation, third-party mediators brought in by the FBI. The group has represented a former Ku Klux Klan leader as well as survivors of the deadly 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas.