29/01/2018 10:05 GMT | Updated 29/01/2018 10:05 GMT

Trump Says U.S. 'Deeply Respects' Africa In Letter

Trump tells African leaders that he looks forward to welcoming many of them to the White House.

Carlos Barria / Reuters
U.S. President Donald Trump. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

U.S. President Donald Trump said his country "deeply respects" Africans and will dispatch its top diplomat to the continent, in a letter to African leaders seen by AFP on Sunday.

The letter, sent last week, comes after Trump provoked a firestorm of indignation among African nations earlier in January, when he reportedly called them "sh*thole countries" during a meeting with lawmakers in Washington.

Trump has denied the remarks, which are nevertheless expected to be formally condemned by the 55 member states of the African Union (A.U.) during their ongoing summit in the Ethiopian capital.

"I want to underscore that the United States deeply respects the people of Africa, and my commitment to strong and respectful relationships with African nations as sovereign nations is firm," Trump wrote in the letter.

"Our soldiers are fighting side-by-side to defeat terrorists, and we are working together to increase free, fair and reciprocal trade," he said.

The letter was not made public, but its existence was confirmed by Chris Meade, a diplomat with the U.S. delegation to the A.U.

Read: Trump Calls Haiti, Africa 'Sh*thole Countries' And Twitter Is Losing It

Meade declined to comment on its contents, but an A.U. source confirmed the accuracy of the text of the letter circulating on social media.

Earlier this month, media reports emerged of Trump demanding to know during a meeting on immigration reform why the U.S. should accept citizens from "sh*thole countries", including Haiti, El Salvador and the entire African continent.

Trump defended himself on Twitter, saying: "The language used by me... was tough, but this was not the language used."

In the letter, Trump does not acknowledge the reported comments, but said secretary of state Rex Tillerson would make a "extended visit" in March.

He told African leaders that he looks forward to "welcoming many of you to the White House".