Jan. 27 (UPI) -- President Donald Trump wrote in a letter to African leaders he "deeply respects" their people, adding that Secretary of State will visit the continent in March.
The African Union, which is made up of 55 member states, had criticized comments Trump made during a meeting on Jan. 11 at a White House with senators on immigration. He reportedly questioned why people from "shithole countries" -- Haiti, El Salvador and African nations -- come to the United States. Trump has denied using this language but Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said the president repeatedly used the profanity to refer to African nations.
"I want to underscore that the United States deeply respects the people of Africa, and my commitment to strong and respectful relationships with African states as sovereign nations is firm," Trump wrote.
Trump offered his "best wishes for a successful summit" and wrote he looks forward to welcoming many of them to the White House.
He also noted that the United States and local troops in Africa are "fighting side by side to defeat terrorists and build secure communities."
In October, four U.S. servicemen were killed after being ambushed by militants while on patrol in Niger.
He also said the United States is attempting to increase "free, fair and reciprocal trade" with African countries and partnering to "safeguard legal immigration."
On Friday, Trump met with Rwanda's president and new African Union chairman Paul Kagame at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
In a readout of the meeting, the White House said "the two Presidents discussed the partnership between the United States and African nations on economic growth and improved security. [Trump] thanked President Kagame for Rwanda's contribution to peacekeeping operations."
Trump ignored reporters' shouted questions about whether he and Kagame had discussed the comments he made at the White House.
During his speech to forum delegates, also Friday, Trump highlighted his "America First" policy.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the details of Tillerson's trip have yet to be finalized.