UPDATE : 2018.1.23 TUE 09:49
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White House: U.S. closely monitoring upcoming S. Korean election in wake of Park's ouster

The United States is closely monitoring developments in South Korea, including its upcoming presidential election, the White House said Friday as it reaffirmed the alliance with Seoul in the wake of the ouster of President Park Geun-hye from office.

"I believe they have to have an election within 60 days. There is an acting president who we have strong relationships with. We will continue to work with South Korea. They're both an ally and a friend in the region," White House press secretary Sean Spicer said at a regular briefing.

"This is obviously an issue that we continue to keep up with on the developments there. It's a domestic issue in which the United States takes no position in the outcome of that election. It's up to the Korean people and their democratic institutions to determine the future of their country," he said.

The U.S. continues to be "a steadfast ally, friend and partner" to South Korea, Spicer said.

Earlier Friday, South Korea's Constitutional Court unanimously endorsed Park's impeachment, removing her from office before completing her five-year term that was set to end in February next year. By law, the country should elect a new leader in two months.

She was impeached by the National Assembly on Dec. 9 on charges of letting a close friend meddle in state affairs, colluding with her to extort money from conglomerates, and neglecting her duties during a 2014 ferry sinking that killed more than 300.

U.S. experts have expressed concern about possible negative effects to the alliance in case South Korea elects a liberal candidate who seeks a softer approach to a nuclear-armed North Korea and closer ties with China amid tensions over the U.S. deployment of the THAAD missile defense system in the South..

"It is probably that a progressive candidate will win the presidency, raising the potential for strains in the South Korean-U.S. relationship," said Bruce Klingner, a senior Korea expert at the Heritage Foundation.

Meanwhile, Spicer said that Trump had lunch with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is set to visit South Korea, Japan and China next week in his first trip to the region since taking office.

"I know that the trip was one of the topics of discussion," he said without providing further details.(Yonhap)

Yoo Heui-Jin  edt@koreapost.com

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