A State Department official on Friday defended the U.S. decision to use a $400 million cash payment to Iran as "leverage" to see the release of three Americans earlier this year.
 
"First of all, this was Iran's money. It was money they were going to get back anyway," State Department spokesman John Kirby insisted on MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
 
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"It would have been foolish and imprudent, in our view, to go ahead and settle the cash payment of the principal when we didn't have our Americans back," Kirby said. 
 
"We did use it as leverage, and we make no apologies about that because we got our American citizens back safely," he added.
 
Kirby said that Iranian officials "were playing games with us" and U.S. officials "were very worried in the final hours here they were going to somehow pull a fast one."
 
The State Department on Thursday admitted the cash payment to Iran in January was linked to the release of the Americans from Tehran after a Wall Street Journal report found that U.S. officials wouldn't allow Iranians to take control of the money until the prisoners left Iran.
 
The Obama administration has sought to tamp down controversy for weeks, with President Obama earlier this month bristling at criticism, insisting the exchange didn't amount to a ransom and stating, "This wasn’t some nefarious deal."
 
The State Department official on Friday insisted the release of the hostages and payment of the $400 million, part of a $1.7 billion settlement over a dispute from an arms deal in the 1970s, occurred through separate diplomatic channels but eventually converged. 
 
"It's true that with the nuclear deal done these two tracks were kind of converging and coming together, and we took full advantage of that and we make no apologies for that," Kirby said.
 
"To the degree that it was quid pro quo, they got their principal back and we a much more advantageous interest payment schedule," he added.