Trump says he ‘deeply respects’ people of Africa after purported derogatory remark

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President Trump told African leaders that he “deeply respects” that people of their nations amid ongoing controversy surrounding alleged derogatory remarks made by the president.

Trump, in a letter dated Thursday and addressed to African leaders gathered at a summit this weekend in Ethiopia, said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an “extended stay” to the continent in March.

The comment attributed to Trump was made earlier this month during a White House meeting with congressional leaders about reforming U.S. immigration law, particularly a federal program that promotes diversity among the country’s immigrant population.

The president has denied that he used the derogatory language, purportedly comparing Haiti and African nations to a dirty toilet. Some who were in the room with Trump say he did not make the remarks while others disagree.

In the days that followed, U.S. diplomats scrambled to address the fallout from the comments. Many in Africa were taken aback, especially considering the Trump administration has paid little attention to the continent throughout the first year in power.

Trump’s letter, seen by The Associated Press and confirmed by two U.S. officials, says the U.S. “profoundly respects” the partnerships and values shared by the U.S. and Africans and that the president’s commitment to strong relationships with African nations is “firm.”

The letter offers Trump’s “deepest compliments” to the African leaders as they gather. It notes that U.S. soldiers are “fighting side by side” against extremism on the continent and that the U.S. is working to increase “free, fair and reciprocal trade” with African countries and partnering to “safeguard legal immigration.”

The letter gives no details on Tillerson’s upcoming visit.

 On Friday, Trump met with Rwanda’s president and new African Union chair Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum, calling Kagame a “friend.”

The 55-nation, African Union summit this weekend is being held in the Ethiopia capital of Addis Ababa. Leader attending are expected to respond to the purported comments.

An AU spokeswoman has said the organization was “frankly alarmed” by the purported comments, and a number of African nations have spoken out or summoned U.S. diplomats to explain.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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