Dozens of former U.S. ambassadors to African countries have written to President Donald Trump expressing "deep concern" over his comments about the continent and warning that respectful engagement is crucial to protecting American interests.
The letter to Trump is signed by 78 former envoys including former assistant secretaries of state for African affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield and Johnnie Carson. The letter, dated Tuesday, asks the president to "reassess" his views on the 54-nation continent, which it calls blessed with "almost unparalleled natural resources" and with which the U.S. has deep historical ties.
Trump referred to African nations as "shithole countries" last week in dismissing a bipartisan immigration proposal, according to those at the meeting. The president has denied using that language, but others present insist he did.
"I wrote the letter along with my former colleague, Michelle Gavin, formerly ambassador to Botswana and senior director for Africa on the National Security Council during the first Obama administration. I also circulated to many former State Department colleagues," Carson said in an email to the AP.
"The letter was intended to demonstrate that President Trump's apparent disdain and disregard toward Africa is not shared by those who have had the privilege of working in and across Africa on behalf of the United States government and the American people."
The White House has not responded, Carson said.
The letter urges Trump to have positive interactions with African countries.
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"The United States of America is safer, healthier, more prosperous and better equipped to solve problems that confront all of humanity when we work with, listen to and learn from our African partners," the letter says.
The African Union continental body and several African nations have expressed shock and condemnation over Trump's remark. The issue is likely to come up at an AU summit later this month.
Concern across Africa, the world's second most populous continent, has been growing even before Trump's remark as his administration proposed deep cuts to foreign aid and shifted its focus in Africa toward countering extremism.
The State Department has hurried to reassure African nations in the wake of Trump's comment, with the department's Bureau of African Affairs tweeting that "the United States will continue to robustly, enthusiastically and forcefully engage" with them.