JERUSALEM – Israel's defense minister said Thursday that Iran's latest claim of dramatic advancements in its nuclear program is exaggerated, but that Tehran's nuclear pursuits remain a threat.
The Iranians are "presenting a situation as better than what it really is," Defense Minister Ehud Barak told Israel Radio.
On Wednesday, Iranian state TV broadcast pictures of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad overseeing what was described as the first Iranian-made fuel rod being inserted into a research reactor in northern Tehran.
Barak dismissed the presentation as a "show," saying that Iran wants to create the impression that its nuclear capabilities are now irreversible.
Iran is trying to "make it seem ... like the point of no return is already behind them, which is not the case," Barak said.
Separately, the semiofficial Fars agency on Wednesday reported that a "new generation" of Iranian centrifuges -- used to enrich uranium toward nuclear fuel -- had gone into operation at the country's main enrichment facility at Natanz in central Iran.
Barak said he doubted that claim. He did not offer reasons for the doubts or elaborate.
Israel has been a leading voice in an international campaign to halt the Iranian nuclear program. Like the West, Israel accuses Iran of pursuing atomic weapons. Tehran denies the accusations, saying its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran to be a threat to its very existence, citing Ahmadinejad's repeated calls for Israel's destruction and Iran's support for anti-Israel militant groups.
With Israel claiming that time is running out to stop the Iranians, there are growing international concerns that the Israelis are preparing to attack Iran.
Barak spoke during a visit to Japan, where he was meeting senior Japanese officials. On Wednesday, Japan's Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda told Barak not to resort to military action against Iran. The international community fears an Israeli strike could set off a region-wide war and roil global oil markets.
Barak told Israel Radio he was "not disappointed" by the Japanese leader's call. He said his visit was a chance to "explain the complexity of the picture and the danger that Iran carries for the stability of the entire world, including the stability of oil supplies."
Barak added he now believes Japan better understands Israel's position and praised Tokyo for acting to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil.