The Iranian President’s weekend announcement that his country has 6,000 centrifuges working to enrich uranium has been called a bluff by an Israeli official. The official, who is responsible for monitoring Iran’s nuclear development program, says that Ahmadinejad was probably lying when he claimed that number.

"Our assessment, based on the latest available information and recent reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency, is that the figure of 6,000 centrifuges is unlikely," said the official. "We believe a figure of between 3,400 and 3,500 is more accurate."

The number announced by Ahmadinejad to a semi-official Iranian news agency would represent a significant jump in the volume of uranium enrichment work currently underway.  It would also mean a much tighter deadline for international efforts to stop Iran before it completes building a nuclear weapon.

The statement from the Iranian leader comes a week after the United States sent a diplomat to mediate talks between Iran and world governments, in what is widely seen as a conciliatory move from the superpower.

The U.S. had previously taken a hard line in its approach to the recalcitrant Islamic Republic, threatening everything from economic sanctions to military intervention if Iran doesn’t stop its nuclear program, which it has refused to do. Tehran insists that the program is geared solely toward peaceful nuclear energy development, which it claims is a necessity given its limited capacity to refine its vast reserves of oil.

Ahmadinejad declared Saturday that international groups had agreed to allow his country to continue with its uranium enrichment program as long as it was not expanded beyond its current size, which he claimed was  6,000 centrifuges.

"Today, they have consented that the existing 5,000 or 6,000 centrifuges not be increased and that operation of this number of centrifuges is not a problem," state radio quoted Ahmadinejad as having said.

In April, Iran announced that it was planning to double the 3,000 centrifuges it was then running in its underground uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

"Islamic Iran today possesses 6,000 centrifuges," the Iranian dictator was quoted as saying Saturday in a speech to university professors in the northeastern city of Mashhad.

"Announcements like this, whatever the true number is, are not productive and will only serve to further isolate Iran from the international community," said Carlton Carroll, a spokesman for the White House.

Israel Explains Iran

The Israeli government official explained that Ahmadinejad was aiming for two goals when he exaggerated the number of the centrifuges: The first was to encourage his technicians to speed up development of enriched uranium, the key fissile material necessary for a conventional nuclear bomb. Second, with next year’s presidential elections approaching, the leader hoped to provoke and antagonize the West in order to gain support within his country as the defender of Iran against a world of enemy states.

According to the Israeli source, Ahmadinejad has failed to deliver on promises of improving the economy and creating jobs, and he has exploited the nuclear controversy as his last hope of rallying political support. "Ultimately it is not President Ahmadinejad who decides Iran's nuclear policy, but the country's spiritual leader [Ayatollah] Ali Khomeini," noted the Israeli official. "Ahmadinejad will not compromise because he seeks confrontation, but Khomeini or another presidential candidate may be tempted to accept a compromise package drawn up by the West in return for halting uranium enrichment."