“I think that certainly the intelligence people have no doubt that … this is an illicit nuclear facility, if only … because the Iranians kept it a secret,” Gates said in an interview broadcast on CNN’s State of the Union.
“If they wanted it for peaceful nuclear purposes, there's no reason to put it so deep underground, no reason to be deceptive about it, keep it a … secret for a protracted period of time,” Gates said.
Gates refused to rule out a military strike by the United States and its allies, but called for diplomatic efforts including sanctions first.
“The reality is, there is no military option that does anything more than buy time,” Gates said. “The estimates are one to three years or so. And the only way you end up not having a nuclear-capable Iran is for the Iranian government to decide that their security is diminished by having those weapons, as opposed to strengthened.
“And so I think, as I say, while you don't take options off the table, I think there's still room left for diplomacy.”
Gate said “a variety of options” remained available, including sanctions on banking and equipment and technology for Iran’s oil and gas industry.
The Pentagon chief acknowledged that "China's participation is clearly important" in an effort to impose economic sanctions on Iran for flouting international rules for the development of nuclear enrichment facilities.
Gates also said that October 1 talks between Iran, the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia, and China offered the group of six world powers the opportunity for some potential "leverage" over the Iranians.
"I think we are all sensitive to the possibility of the Iranians trying to run the clock out on us. And - and so nobody thinks of this as an open-ended process,” Gates said.
The United States continues to work with Israel about the situation in Iran, Gates achnowledged.
"Well, Israel obviously thinks of the Iranian nuclear program as an existential threat to Israel,” he said. “We've obviously been in close touch with them, as our ally and friend, and - and continue to urge them to let this diplomatic and economic sanctions path play out."