Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tamped down concerns Tuesday that reports of President Trump referring to African nations as "shithole countries" had damaged diplomatic ties between the U.S. and the African continent.

"At this stage nothing has changed with respect to our relationship with African nations, and we continue to see them wanting to strengthen our relationship in that regard as well," Tillerson told members of the media at a press conference held at a summit of foreign ministers in Vancouver.

"The U.S. continues to be one of the most generous nations on the entire planet in terms of aid assistance, mutual defense assistance, and economic development," Tillerson added. "We have a very positive relationship with African nations, we share a number of security issues, we share a number of economic development issues, and I think those leaders know that the United States wants that relationship to continue to be strong."

Trump has denied using the phrase in a White House meeting with senators to discuss immigration reform, while lawmakers who were in the Oval Office have offered different versions of events.

News coverage of the meeting, however, has prompted sharp rebukes from countries around the world.

The government of Botswana, for example, issued a statement Jan. 12 condemning the expression.

"The Botswana government has also enquired from the U.S. government through the ambassador, to clarify if Botswana is regarded as a "shithole" country given that there are Botswana nationals residing in the U.S., and also that some of Batswana may wish to visit the U.S.," the statement read.

The 55-nation African Union demanded an apology from Trump.