Trump letter to African leaders says Tillerson to visit soon

President Donald Trump in a new letter to African leaders says he "deeply respects" the people of Africa and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will make an "extended visit" to the continent in March, his first in that role.

The letter dated Thursday is addressed to African leaders as they gather for an African Union summit this weekend in Ethiopia's capital.

U.S. diplomats have scrambled for days to address shock and condemnation after Trump's reported comparison of African nations to a dirty toilet. Trump has said he didn't use such language, while others present say he did.

Many in Africa were taken aback by the comments after nearly a year of little attention to Africa by the Trump administration.

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 continental body's summit is expected to respond to Trump's vulgar remark. An AU spokeswoman has said the organization was "frankly alarmed" by the comments, and a number of African nations have spoken out or summoned U.S. diplomats to explain.

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.

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Anna reported from Johannesburg.