The Associated Press has learned that the United States and Iran secretly engaged in high-level, face-to-face talks at least three times over the past year.

President Barack Obama makes a statement announcing an interim agreement on Iranian nuclear power in the State Dining Room at the White House (T.J. Kirkpatrick-Pool/Getty Images)

The high-stakes diplomatic gamble by the Obama administration paved the way for the historic deal sealed early Sunday in Geneva aimed at slowing Tehran's nuclear program.

The discussions were kept hidden even from America's closest friends, including its negotiating partners and Israel, until two months ago.

Senior Obama administration officials confirmed to the AP details of the extensive outreach. The officials spoke only on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss by name the highly sensitive diplomatic effort

Israel minister: Iran deal based on 'deceit'

Israel's prime minister has criticized the international community's nuclear deal with Iran as a "historic mistake."

Speaking to his Cabinet today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is not bound by the deal and reserves the right to defend itself. That is a reference to possible military action against Iran.

Netanyahu says the deal makes the world "a much more dangerous place because the most dangerous regime in the world made a significant step in obtaining the most dangerous weapons in the world."

Israel believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon, although Tehran denies that.

Kerry tells Iran: Prove peaceful nuke intentions

Secretary of State John Kerry (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says that if Iran's nuclear program is truly just for peaceful purposes, then it simply needs to "prove it" to the world.

Kerry spoke in Geneva after a marathon negotiating session -- lasting about 18 hours -- that culminated with a first-step deal between Iran and six world powers, including the U.S. The deal is designed to curb Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.

Speaking to reporters early Sunday, Kerry also insisted that the first-step deal will make Israel, a key U.S. ally and archenemy of Iran, safer.

The temporary deal would provide about $7 billion in relief from international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy. In return, Iran has agreed to curbs on uranium enrichment and other nuclear activity. All parties pledged to work toward a final accord next year.

Obama declares Iran deal 'important first step'

President Barack Obama says a nuclear deal with Iran is an "important first step" toward addressing the world's concerns over the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear program.

Obama says the deal includes "substantial limitations" on Iran and cuts off the Islamic republic's most likely path to a bomb.

Obama spoke Saturday night shortly after the U.S. and five partners reached an interim nuclear deal with Iran. The agreement was finalized during talks in Geneva that stretched well past midnight.

One influential member of Congress is critical. Rep. Ed Royce, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, says the United States is "relieving Iran of the sanctions pressure" while allowing Tehran to "keep the key elements of its nuclear weapons-making capacity."

Iran president: Nuclear 'rights' sealed

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani says the nuclear deal reached with world powers recognizes Tehran's "rights" to maintain an atomic program.

The remarks come just hours after Iranian envoys and world powers reached a first-step accord in Geneva aimed at easing Western concerns that Tehran could one day seek nuclear weapons.

Rouhani on Sunday repeated Iran's claim that it would "never" seek atomic weapons.

His reference to "nuclear rights" in a nationally broadcast speech touches on the country's demand to keep its uranium enrichment program.

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