U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry downplayed the importance of Tuesday's handshake between President Barack Obama and Cuba's Raul Castro at a Nelson Mandela memorial event in South Africa.

During a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee focused on Iran, Kerry responded to the criticism of Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) over the greeting that Obama and Castro gave one another.

"Sometimes a handshake is just a handshake. But when the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant," the Cuban-American lawmaker said.

"Ladies and gentlemen, today is about honoring Nelson Mandela," the secretary responded. "And the president's at an international funeral with leaders from all over the world."

"He didn't choose who's there. They're there to honor Mandela. And we appreciate that people from all over the world and from all different beliefs and walks of life who appreciated Nelson Mandela and/or were friends of his came to honor him," Kerry said.

The secretary went on to point out that in his speech to the gathering in Johannesburg, Obama urged "leaders to honor Mandela's struggle for freedom by upholding the basic human rights of their people."

Ros-Lehtinen then interrupted to ask: "And would you say Raul Castro is upholding basic human rights?"

"No, absolutely not," Kerry answered. "And you know my position on that." EFE