WASHINGTON (UPI) — The U.S. Department of State admitted for the first time Thursday that a $400 million payment the government made to Iran earlier this year did have some correlation to Tehran’s release of three detained Americans on the same day.

The payment was made Jan. 17, on the same day the detainees were released. President Barack Obama’s administration said previously the payment was made to settle a decades-old arms deal and had no relationship to the detainees.

Thursday, though, State Department spokesman John Kirby admitted that officials had used the payment as “leverage” to ensure Iran didn’t back out on its promise to release the detainees.

“We felt it would be imprudent not to consider that some leverage in trying make sure our Americans got out,” he said during a news briefing Thursday.

“If you’re asking me was there a connection in that regard … I’m not going to deny that,” he added.

The State Department emphasized, however, that the status of the detainees had no influence whatsoever on the United States’ decision to send the payment.

“We don’t pay ransom,” Kirby said, also noting that, “there were opportunities we took advantage of, and as a result we got American citizens back home.”

The remarks are the first from the U.S. government to establish a clear connection between the payment and the detainees’ release.

Earlier this month, Obama himself rejected the notion that the $400 million was paid in exchange for the detainees’ release.

“We do not pay ransom for hostages,” the president said. “The notion that we would somehow start now, in this high-profile way … and say to them that we don’t pay ransom defies logic.”

Some observers, however, said Thursday they don’t see the distinction.

“If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., said. “If a cash payment is contingent on a hostage release, it’s a ransom.”

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