According to Gates, the uranium enrichment facility in Qom, which was revealed last week, is "part of a pattern of deception and lies on the part of the Iranians from the very beginning with respect to their nuclear program."
Gates deflected a question whether he believes the Qom facility is one of a kind, or part of a series of smaller, covert enrichment facilities meant to give Iran the capability of continuing their enrichment program away from UN inspectors who regularly visit larger facilities, such as the one in Natanz, which was once kept a under wraps as well.
"My personal opinion is that the Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons," responded Gates, but added that he is unsure "whether they have made a formal decision" to manufacture them yet.
The Wall Street Journal has reported that American, Israeli and German intelligence agencies began searching for the second uranium enrichment in as early 2002, after examining purchases conducted by Iran in the black market, which revealed findings that did not match the needs of the recognized Iranian facilities.
One of the main questions now is whether Iran has additional secret facilities, like the one in Qom, which have yet to be revealed. A US national intelligence estimate from 2007 lists more than 10 sites suspected as secret facilities related to the Iranian nuclear plan. It is unclear whether the Qom facility was on the list.
In the meantime, world media continues to grapple with the question of a possible Israeli attack on Iran and its implications. The British publication, The Sunday Express, wrote Sunday that the head of British intelligence services MI-6 mediated between Mossad Chief Meir Dagan and Saudi officials, who gave their authorization for a potential Israeli attack on their Iranian neighbor's nuclear facilities.
It was not explicitly reported whether the Saudis also gave the Israel Air Force use of their air space, as former US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton recently claimed. According to the publication, British intelligence was instrumental in exposing the enrichment facilities in Qom.
'Low-level enrichment also at new facility'
Iranian nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Saturday that the enrichment facility in Qom was built as a preventative measure against an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
According to him, it is a "step taken out of caution in order to strengthen the ability to handle any type of threat or attack against Iran's human resources and sensitive nuclear equipment."
"The new facility has the highest possible resilience against any possible attack or hit," Salehi added. The facility, he continued, is meant to make it clear to the enemy that Iran "will not allow its nuclear program to be halted, not even for one minute."
In an interview with Iranian state television in Tehran, Salehi revealed various details about the facility, which was kept secret until recently. Among other things, he said that the new facility's operations will be similar to the well-known operations of the facility at Natanz. In other words, thousands of centrifuges will enrich uranium in underground labs.
Salehi explained that, contrary to Western concerns, uranium enrichment at the new facility, just as in Natanz, will be low-level enrichment of up to 5% enrichment only, and not higher-level enrichment used for military purposes.
Salehi added that building at the Qom site started about a year ago and that no radioactive material or equipment has been brought into the facility as of yet.
"We are at the start of the building process, and, therefore, according to IAEA rules, there was no need to declare the facility," said Salehi. The Iranians decided in any case, he claimed, to declare the facility earlier than necessary "in order to build trust and for the sake of transparency."
In an interview with Iranian news agency, ISNA, Salehi added, "We are also surprised by the shock in the West."
According to him, the West is kicking up a stir about Iran's nuclear program: "When we announce (our facilities), they aren't satisfied. And when we don’t announce (our facilities) they aren't satisfied."
In regards to the location of the new enrichment facilities, Salehi said it is "between Tehran and Qom," which is some 150 km (93 miles) from the Iranian capital.
News agencies contributed to this report