From an August 4 press conference:
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Okay, the -- it's been interesting to watch this story surface. Some of you may recall, we announced these payments in January. Many months ago, there wasn't a secret. We announced them, to all of you. Josh did a briefing on them. This wasn't some nefarious deal. And at the time, we explained that Iran had pressed a claim before an international tribunal about them recovering money of theirs that we had frozen, that, as a consequence of it working its way through the international tribunal, it was the assessment of our lawyers that we were now at a point where there was significant litigation risk and we could end up costing ourselves billions of dollars. It was their advice and suggestion that we settle. And that's what these payments represent. And it wasn't a secret. We were completely open with everybody about it, and it's interesting to me how suddenly this became a story again. That's point number one. Point number two, we do not pay ransom for hostages. We've got a number of Americans being held all around the world. And I meet with their families. And it is heartbreaking. And we have stood up an entire section of interagency experts who devote all their time working to working with these families to get these Americans out. But those families know that we have a policy that we don't pay ransom. 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 into the faces of other hostage families whose loved ones are being held hostage, and say to them that we don't pay ransom, defies logic. So that's point number two. We do not pay ransom. We didn't here and we won't in the future. Precisely because if we did, then we would start encouraging Americans to be targeted. Much in the same way countries that do pay ransom, end up having a lot more of their citizens being taken by various groups. Point number three is that the timing of this was, in fact, dictated by the fact that, as a consequence of us negotiating around the nuclear deal, we actually had diplomatic negotiations and conversations with Iran for the first time in several decades.