U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks with the media after attending the Mideast peace conference in Paris, France, January 15, 2017 . REUTERS/Alex Brandon/Pool(reuters_tickers)
LONDON (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday it was "inappropriate" for Donald Trump to brand German Chancellor Angela Merkel's refugee policy "a catastrophic mistake".
"I thought frankly it was inappropriate for a president-elect of the United States to be stepping into the politics of other countries in a quite direct manner," Kerry told CNN's Christiane Amanpour during a one-day visit to London in the last week of the Obama administration.
"He will have to speak to that. As of Friday, he is responsible for that relationship."
Trump, who will be sworn in as president on Friday, had said in a joint interview with Bild newspaper and the Times of London that he respected Merkel, but criticized her stance on refugees, which allowed a wave of more than 1 million refugees into Germany.
Merkel faces a tough re-election battle in September.
"I think we have to be very careful about suggesting that one's strongest leaders in Europe, and most important players with respect to where we are heading, made one mistake or another. I don't think it's appropriate for us to be commenting on that," Kerry said.
He rejected Trump's description of Merkel's refugee policy as "catastrophic".
"I think she was extremely courageous. I don't think it amounts to that characterization," Kerry said.
"It has had some problems, but everybody has had some problems with this challenge of how to respond as a big nation, a great nation, as the West, where our values, our principles are important with respect to caring for people who are in distress," he added.
The United States has admitted far fewer Syrian refugees than some allies, such as Germany. Trump has said violent militants could enter the country posing as refugees.
The CNN interview came a day after Kerry attended a one-day conference of 70 nations in Paris on Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The conference reaffirmed that only a two-state solution could resolve the conflict and warned against unilateral steps by either side that could prejudge negotiations.
Trump has said resolving the conflict will be a priority of his administration and suggested that his son-in-law Jared Kushner could help broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Kerry, who tried for nine months to forge an agreement between the two sides, welcomed Trump's efforts but pushed back at a suggestion that the Obama administration was to blame for the failure to clinch a deal.
"No, no, the leaders of the two countries involved ... have failed to come to the table to reach an agreement. You can lead a horse to water, you can't make it drink, and we did a lot of leading to a lot of water."
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; editing by Andrew Roche)