By Anton Troianovski and Laurence Norman

BRUSSELS--German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for European unity in the wake of President-elect Donald Trump's criticism of the trans-Atlantic alliance and the European Union.

"I think we Europeans have our destiny in our own hands," Ms. Merkel said at a news conference on Monday.

She was responding to a question about Mr. Trump's weekend interview with a German and a British newspaper in which he said other countries would follow the U.K. in exiting the EU, adding that he was indifferent to the fate of the bloc, which he described as a vehicle for German interests.

Ms. Merkel said that, as the U.K. leaves the EU, she would push for the bloc's remaining 27 member states "to work together intensively, and above all by looking toward the future."

Ms. Merkel avoided responding to Mr. Trump's specific claims in the interview with Germany's Bild and London's Times, in which he called her refugee policy catastrophic.

"[Mr.] Trump has presented his positions once more. They have been known for a while. My positions are also known," Ms. Merkel said.

In the interview, Mr. Trump also said the U.S. would move quickly to agree to a free-trade deal with the U.K., which, as an EU member for the next two years, cannot conclude independent trade agreements. And he said that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was, in its current form, obsolete, though he said it could have an important role.

In responding to Mr. Trump's comments, Ms. Merkel echoed remarks from European foreign ministers who also called on the new U.S. administration to respect its international obligations.

EU foreign ministers had already met in November and discussed their concerns about a Trump administration. Among their concerns: Mr. Trump's hopes for some form of grand bargain with Russia, his criticism of the Iranian nuclear deal and his protectionist trade rhetoric.

However until now, EU officials had stressed the importance of engaging the new U.S. president and hoped that Mr. Trump would moderate his stances as he prepared to take office on Jan. 20.

On his way into the monthly meeting of EU foreign ministers, Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Mr. Trump's comments had "caused astonishment and excitement, and I'm sure not just in Brussels."

Mr. Steinmeier said he had just come from a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and that it was clear that the president-elect's remarks about the alliance had caused concerns there.

"First, it goes against the statements of the nominated defense secretary a few days ago. We have to see what it will yield in terms of U.S. foreign policy. The same goes for the statements on trade policy," he said. "We count on the U.S. to stick to its international obligations, including in the World Trade Organization."

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Mr. Trump's comments were an invitation to the bloc to stand united.

"As is the case with Brexit, the best way of defending Europe, which is rather what Mr. Trump has invited us to do, is to remain united, to remain as a bloc, not to forget that the strength of the Europeans lies in their unity," he said.

Mr. Ayrault says he is eager to meet nominated U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson so that they can begin discussing the myriad foreign-policy challenges facing the U.S. and Europe: from the conflict in Syria to relations with Russia.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini made nomention of Mr. Trump but made clear the bloc's view that, one year after its implementation, the nuclear agreement with Iran was something to be safeguarded. Mr. Trump has described the accord as a "horrible" deal.

"The European Union will continue to work for the respect and the implementation of this extremely important deal, most of all for our security," she said.

Mr. Trump's remarks on a U.S.-U.K. trade deal were however welcomed by U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

"I think it is very good news that the U.S.A. wants to do a good free trade deal with us and wants to do it very fast, and it is great to hear that from President-Elect Donald Trump," he said.

-Valentina Pop contributed to this article.

Write to Anton Troianovski at anton.troianovski@wsj.com and Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 16, 2017 09:47 ET (14:47 GMT)

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