WASHINGTON - Communications from the 1990s suggest Iran's current foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, had knowledge of a program to procure goods for an alleged clandestine nuclear program when he was head of a university, a US nuclear expert said on Tuesday.

David Albright, founder of the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), said among 1,600 telexes and other material he has obtained and is studying was a letter signed by Salehi as head of Sharif University in 1991.

The letter served as an end-user guarantee to a European supplier of materials that could have a dual purpose for use in a nuclear program. Tehran-based Sharif University, however, was acting essentially as a front for Iran's military procurement network, Albright said.

"Salehi knew about or was involved in efforts to create an alleged parallel military nuclear program that is of great interest to the IAEA now," Albright told Reuters, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog.

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"And the intention of that program was probably to make nuclear weapons, including producing highly enriched uranium," Albright said.

While senior IAEA officials have in the past told Reuters they suspected Salehi and Sharif University played a role in such procurement activities, the telexes appear to be the first public evidence supporting those suspicions.

ISIS planned to publish its findings and some of the documents about procurement activities of Iran's Physics Research Center in the late 1980s and early 1990s on its website this week.

The Iranian UN mission did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The findings come as Iran and the IAEA ended two days of talks and were to meet again next week, just days before negotiations between Iran and world powers in Baghdad.

The West is concerned Iran's nuclear program may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

US intelligence agencies have said Iran halted its efforts to construct a nuclear device in the fall of 2003, while continuing with research and uranium enrichment.

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