By Irwin Arieff

New York - Libya has taken blame for the 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and vowed to fight terrorism in a drive to convince the international community that the deadly mid-air blast was part of its past.

In a letter delivered on Friday to the United Nations Security Council, Libya said it "accepts responsibility for the actions of its officials" in the bombing of the jumbo jet over Lockerbie, Scotland, that killed 270 people.

The three-page letter from Libyan envoy Ahmed Own said Tripoli "is committed to be cooperative in the international fight against terrorism" and pledged "to refrain from becoming involved in any acts of terrorism."

It was an admission Libya had long resisted despite UN economic sanctions and an image as a pariah in much of the world.

In the letter, whose delivery was delayed by the New York power outages, Libya also pledged cooperation in any future criminal investigations of the Pan Am bombing and said it would pay compensation expected to total $2,7-billion, or up to $10-million for each of the victims' families.

Once the money is deposited into a special account - which a US official said could happen as early as Tuesday - the United States and Britain said they were prepared to press the Security Council to lift the sanctions put on Libya in 1992.

British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said he would introduce a draft resolution on Monday that would end the sanctions.

It was still possible, however, that France might spoil the deal - which was nearly 15 years in the making - in a bid to wring more compensation out of Libya for the 1989 downing of UTA Flight 772, a French airliner, over Niger.

In a move that has infuriated Washington and the families of Pan Am 103 victims, France has demanded time to try to persuade Libya to raise the roughly €30,5-million in compensation that the French government accepted for the families of the 170 victims of the UTA bombing.

US officials, still irked by France's leadership in blocking UN approval for the US-led invasion of Iraq, said Paris had privately threatened to veto the sanctions-ending resolution if it could not first get its way from Libya.

Lifting the UN sanctions would have only a symbolic effect on Libya in any case.

While it would help Libya try to put the Lockerbie matter behind it, it has no practical impact because the sanctions were suspended in 1999.

That took place after Libya turned over two suspects, Abdel Basset al-Megrahi and Al-Amin Khalifa Fahima, for trial in connection with their alleged role in the Pan Am bombing.

Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was subsequently convicted of the crime in 2001, while Fahima was acquitted.

The US-British deal with Libya would not affect separate US sanctions, including a ban on imports of Libyan oil to the United States.

The White House said on Friday it would keep the US measures in force as Washington still had concerns about Libya's suspected pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, its "destructive role" in regional conflicts in Africa and its "poor human rights record and lack of democratic institutions." - Additional reporting by Anna Driver, Adam Entous and Arshad Mohammed