The State Department on Wednesday insisted that there was no link at all between the $400 million cash payment to Iran and Iran's decision to free four American hostages, despite Republican suspicions that the Obama administration essentially made a ransom payment in violation of U.S. policy.

Spokesman Mark Toner was asked questions about the payment just hours after the Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. sent $400 million in cash on an unmarked plane that "coincided" with the release of four American hostages.

The government says the payment was part of a settlement involving the U.S. return of funds it took from Iran in 1979 as part of an arms deal that was never completed. But because it happened just as U.S. hostages were being released, many suspect it was effectively ransom.

Toner disagreed, and said the administration has been clear that it was pursuing three separate negotiations with Iran that were being completed at the same time.

"Our negotiations to reach the nuclear deal with Iran did open up enough space, if you will, for us to reach a resolution on other outstanding issues," he said. Those other issues included the arms deal settlement, and talks to free the hostages, but Toner said those issues were never linked.

"There was no linkage between the settlement and the freeing of these Americans," he said.

Still, Toner admitted that he wasn't sure if the hostages were on the way to being released before the cash showed up in Iran.

"I can't answer conclusively that these ... detainees, Americans, were on the plane before that money arrived," he said.

Toner refused to confirm the Journal's report, but did admit when asked that sending Iran cash on pallets on an unmarked plane isn't the usual way of doing business. But he said decades of Iran being shut out of the international banking system makes it difficult to do business with the country.

"We're forced to get a little creative... when we're dealing with a country that was largely cut off from international financial institutions, and the international banking system, due to years of sanctions," he said.

Toner also rejected the idea that the money was sent as a ransom payment to ensure the release of 10 U.S. sailors who were briefly detained by Iran this year. "Absolutely no linkage on that," he said.

While the Journal's report drew reactions from Republicans, Toner said the administration has been open about the process, and said there was "very little news to this" other than the detail of how the cash was sent.

"Other than some of the ... alleged details ... there really wasn't much new to this article," he said. "It made a lot of allegations that this was ransom. It is not, it was not. We said that from the beginning."