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U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said he believes Iran intends to develop nuclear weapons, after the recent discovery of a secret uranium enrichment facility in the Islamic Republic.

"My personal opinion is that the Iranians have the intention of having nuclear weapons," said Gates in an interview with ABC News, set to be aired on Sunday.But he added: "I think the question of whether they have made a formal decision to move towards the development of nuclear weapons, uh, is in doubt."

The nuclear site in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qom is believed to be inside a heavily guarded, underground facility belonging to the elite Revolutionary Guard, according to a document sent by U.S. President Barack Obama's administration to lawmakers.

In the ABC interview, Gates said the fact that Iran had concealed the site's existence raised significant questions as to their nuclear ambitions.

"This 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," the defense secretary added.

Netanyahu calls for 'crippling' sanctions on Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Senators and Congress members that now is the time to act to halt the Iranian nuclear program.

The prime minister's comments - in telephone conversations over the weekend - came a day after evidence of the clandestine Iranian nuclear facility was revealed."If not now, then when?" Netanyahu reportedly said in the conversations with American officials. "Action must be taken in all areas to increase pressure on Iran and impose crippling sanctions on it."

Senior Israeli officials said that the exposure of the enrichment facility near Qom by the U.S. was done in coordination with Israel. "All the events of the past week came as no surprise to us," one senior official said. U.S. officials last week informed National Security Advisor Uzi Arad and Netanyahu about the letter that Iran had sent to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in which it informed the Agency of the new enrichment facility.

The U.S. administration also informed Israel that it intends to hold a press conference on Friday morning and reveal what information Western countries have about the facility.

The Israeli intelligence community first learned of the Qom facility for enrichment of uranium several years ago. Foreign media reported that Israel took part in gathering intelligence on the facility, along with Germany, the U.K. and France.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, will convene the seven-member inner cabinet forum which meets regualary to discuss the Iranian issue and other foreign policy and defense matters and will update them on talks that he conducted at the United Nations General Assembly last week. He is also expected to speak about renewing peace talks with the Palestinians and talks with the U.S. and other Western nations on Iran. The Qom enrichment facility will also come up.

Also Saturday, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said yesterday that the newly exposed Iranian facility proves without a doubt the Islamic republic is pursuing nuclear weapons.

"This removes the dispute whether Iran is developing military nuclear power or not and therefore the world powers need to draw conclusions," Lieberman told Israel Radio. "Without a doubt it is a reactor for military purposes not peaceful purposes," Lieberman added.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad later said his country had done nothing wrong and Obama would regret his actions. Iran insists its facilities are producing nuclear fuel for power plants and not weapons.

Obama, meanwhile, used his weekly radio and Internet address to offer Iran a serious, meaningful dialogue over its disputed nuclear program, while warning Tehran of grave consequences from a united global front.

"Iran's leaders must now choose - they can live up to their responsibilities and achieve integration with the community of nations. Or they will face increased pressure and isolation, and deny opportunity to their own people," Obama said.