US President Donald Trump has denied that he used the term "shithole countries" to describe Haiti, El Salvador and unspecified African nations in a White House meeting about immigration.
Seeking to limit the fallout from the reported comments that triggered outrage around the world, the US President described his language as "tough" but denied using a vulgar slur.
However, asked if he was "a racist", the US leader stormed out of the White House's Roosevelt Room where he had been attending a Martin Luther King Jr Day event.
The question was posed by American Urban Radio Network's White House Correspondent and CNN contributor April Ryan, who initially asked if he was going to "give an apology for the statement yesterday?"
Trump has been widely criticized for the comments he reportedly made during a discussion about immigration from African nations.
"Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?" he said, according to the Washington Post, after being presented with a proposal to restore protections for immigrants from those countries as part of a bipartisan immigration deal.
He added that the US should admit more people from places like Norway.
Trump did not initially challenge the comments, which were heavily criticized by diplomats and both rival politicians and members of his own party.
He later took to Twitter to deny that he had used the phrase.
"The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used," he wrote, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals [DACA] program an Obama-era action that gives people brought to the US illegally as children the temporary right to live, study and work in America.
He added: "What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made - a big setback for DACA!"
A separate tweet said that he "never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country".
He claimed his comments had been "made up" by his Democratic rivals, adding: "I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians. Probably should record future meetings - unfortunately, no trust!"
But Dick Durbin, a top Democratic senator, said Trump "repeatedly" said "these hate-filled things". The White House has not denied the President's use of racially-tinged rhetoric, either.
Durbin added: "The president erupted several times with questions, and in the course of his comments, said things which were hate-filled, vile and racist.
"I use those words advisably. I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe that in the history of the White House and in that Oval Office, any president has ever spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak yesterday.
He said: "You've seen the comments in the press. I've not read one of them that's inaccurate."
Rupert Colville, a UN human rights spokesman, called Trump's offensive remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and unspecified African nations "racist", saying "there is no other word you can use".
Trump's reported comments have also forced his own diplomats to go on the defensive.
The US's most senior official in Haiti was also reportedly summoned to meet with country's president Jovenel Moise, to explain Trump's remarks.
Former Haitian President Laurent Lamothe said the "world is witnessing a new low today" and called the US leader's remarks "totally unacceptable!"
"It shows a lack of respect and ignorance never seen before in the recent history of the US by any President," Lamothe tweeted.
Source: News Agencies, Edited by website team