President Obama on Thursday pushed back on claims that the United States paid $400 million for the release of four American hostages in Iran – defending the transaction as evidence that the controversial nuclear deal with Tehran acted as a catalyst for progress in other areas.

“This wasn’t some nefarious deal,” he said during a press conference at the Pentagon. “We do not pay ransom for hostages.”

Reports have surfaced in recent days that a $400 million pallet of cash was airlifted by the Obama administration to the Iranian government at the same time four Americans hostages were released.

Obama said the money sent to Iran wasn’t a secret and suggested the news had been recycled to drum up drama.

Earlier Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry flatly denied any connection between the cash — and an additional $1.3 billion interest payment — and the prisoner swap, which occurred in rapid succession.

The payment was part of a decades-old dispute over a failed military equipment deal dating to the 1970s, before the Islamic revolution in 1979, the Obama administration has said.

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