Trump says he ‘deeply respects’ African people in letter to leaders

In a letter to African regional leaders, President Donald Trump has said he "deeply respects" the people of Africa and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an "extended visit" to the continent in March.

The letter — a copy of which was obtained by NBC News — is dated Thursday and was sent ahead of the African Union summit this weekend in Ethiopia.

The correspondence comes after Trump caused widespread outrage by reportedly referring to African nations as "shithole countries" in a bipartisan immigration meeting earlier this month.

Trump has denied using this language but Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told reporters the president repeatedly used the slur to refer to African nations at the meeting they both attended on Jan. 11.

The reports shocked African leaders who condemned Trump's vulgar remarks, with Ghana's president saying he would "not accept such insults, even from a leader of a friendly country, no matter how powerful."

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President Nana Akufo-Addo added that Ghana was "certainly not a "shithole country," while Senegal's president, Macky Sall, said in a statement that "Africa and the black race merit the respect and consideration of all."

The African Union, which is made up of 55 member states, also took issue with Trump's remarks. "Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice," said spokeswoman Ebba Kalondo.

On Friday, Trump met with Rwanda's president and new African Union chair Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum, calling him a "friend." African leaders are expected to respond to Trump's vulgar remark at their summit this weekend.

In the letter, Trump says the United States "profoundly respects" the partnerships and values shared by the U.S. and Africans. The president also underscores his commitment to "strong and respectful relationships with African states."

Trump offers his "best wishes for a successful summit" and notes that U.S. and African troops are "fighting side by side to defeat terrorists and build secure communities."

Four U.S. servicemen were killed in October after being ambushed by militants while on patrol in Niger. The body of Sgt. La David Johnson was not recovered until nearly 48 hours after the Oct. 4 attack.

The incident prompted a military investigation and questions in Congress about U.S. involvement in the region.

The president adds in his letter that the U.S. is working to increase "free, fair and reciprocal trade" with African countries and partnering to "safeguard legal immigration."

Trump gave no more details of Tillerson's scheduled trip but said he also hoped to welcome many of the leaders to the White House.

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