Dominant diamond firm De Beers said on Wednesday it had obtained preliminary approval for an agreement to settle the majority of civil class action suits filed against it in the United States for $250 million.

De Beers, 45 percent owned by mining group Anglo American Plc, has faced antitrust cases in the United States since 1945.

"We believe that settling these suits is the most sensible and responsible course of action for the company to take," De Beers Managing Director Gary Ralfe said in a statement.

The statement said the proposed deal would cover claims by a nationwide class of indirect diamond purchasers for $250 million.

"De Beers believes that a successful conclusion to these suits will allow the company to more effectively pursue its global interests by removing the cost, risk, reputational impact and distraction from the company's core activities required to defend possible multiple class actions and possible further litigation," the company statement said.

Last year, the company pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court to a decade-old price-fixing charge, paving the way for the firm to again compete directly in the United States instead of using intermediaries.

De Beers directly returned to the U.S. market in June with the opening of a flagship De Beers LV retail shop on New York's swank Fifth Avenue, a joint venture with French luxury goods group Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy.

The De Beers statement said the proposed settlement of the suits was subject to final approval by the U.S. District Court in New Jersey, and it hoped to obtain final approval during 2006.

It further said that the proposed settlement, which did not involve any admission of liability on the part of De Beers, would not be financed from or have any material impact on the company's mining operations in Southern Africa.