The CIA was aware of Iran's secret nuclear plant in Qom already in 2006, and European and Israeli intelligence agencies were involved in compiling a presentation on the facility to the UN's nuclear watchdog, the US intelligence agency's director, Leon Panetta, revealed in an interview with Time magazine published overnight Wednesday.
The Islamic republic recently acknowledged that it had been secretly constructing a new uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain just north of the Shi'ite holy city of Qom, and agreed to discuss future international inspection of the facility.
"It was built into a mountain; obviously that raised question marks," Panetta said of the site, which is located some 100 km. south of Teheran.
The CIA director revealed that he learned of the facility after he was confirmed as head of the agency in January, and said the US spent months on efforts to gather more intelligence on the facility, including "conducting covert operations into that area."
British, French and Israeli intelligence agencies were involved in compiling a presentation on the Qom site that was prepared "in the event that that information leaked out or that [the Obama administration] wanted to present it to the International Atomic Energy Agency," Panetta added.
According to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, the site was constructed as a "contingency plan" for a possible Western attack on the country's nuclear installations.
"We have been continuously threatenedâ€¦ by the Zionist regime of Israel and also during the Bush administration... It is unjustified for any country to just ignore these kind of threats. Therefore we had to have a contingency plan in order to have a sustained enrichment program," Soltanieh told the BBC's Hardtalk show on Wednesday.
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.