Kerry and Obama
Kerry and ObamaReuters

Both U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday vehemently denied that the United States paid Iran ransom in return for the release of American hostages.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Obama administration secretly funneled $400 million in cash to the Iranians in January, around the time four American prisoners were released from Tehran.

U.S. officials have confirmed that the Obama administration secretly arranged a plane delivery of the cash on the same day Iran released four American prisoners and formally implemented the nuclear deal.

While he confirmed the U.S. offered the payment in cash, Obama nevertheless downplayed the delivery's significance, saying it was not a "nefarious" deal and denying it was ransom.

"We do not pay ransom. We didn't here, and we won't in the future," Obama said, according to CNN.

"Those families know we have a policy that we don't pay ransom," he added. "And the notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way, and announce it to the world, even as we're looking in the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and saying to them we don't pay ransom, defies logic."

Obama downplayed the story, saying he had been open about the payment at the time it was agreed upon.

"We announced these payments in January. Many months ago. They were not a secret," Obama was quoted by CNN as having said during a news conference at the Pentagon. "It wasn't a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it."

Earlier on Thursday, Kerry insisted that the United States never pays ransoms for hostages, rejecting accusations that the $400 million payment to Iran was a quid pro quo for the release of American prisoners.

"First of all, the United States of America does not pay ransom and does not negotiate ransoms with any country," Kerry said at a news conference in Argentina, according to CNN. "We never have and we're not doing that now. It is not our policy."

"This is not a new story. It doesn't represent anything the American people weren't told by the President and by the administration," he added.

The alleged ransom was criticized on Wednesday by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who called the incident a “scandal”, and pointed out that negotiations opened when his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton was serving as Secretary of State.

“Our incompetent Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, was the one who started talks to give 400 million dollars, in cash, to Iran. Scandal!” Trump said.

In a speech in Daytona Beach, Florida later on Wednesday, Trump said, “We have a president who is frankly incompetent.”

"You see it, you don't believe it," he added, accusing the administration of sending "bushels and bushels of cash" to Iran.