Kerry urges Afghan candidates to end dispute
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Obama administration on Thursday stepped up efforts to press Afghanistan's two feuding presidential candidates to end their dispute over June elections, accept the results of an ongoing audit of all ballots and form a national unity government by early September.
On an unannounced visit to Kabul, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made personal appeals to both candidates — former Foreign Minister Abdul- lah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai — to understand the urgency of finding a resolution before the upcoming NATO summit in Wales on September 4, according to officials traveling with Kerry. At that summit, NATO leaders are hoping to make decisions about their nations' roles in Afghanistan after the end of the year, when most combat troops will be withdrawn.
Officials with Kerry said the summit would be an opportunity for the eventual election winner to present himself to the alliance and introduce his new cabinet, which, under a formula brokered by Kerry on his last visit to Kabul in June, would include the election loser appointing a new "chief executive officer" who would serve under the president. Once created, the Afghan government would convene a loya jirga, or nationwide assembly, to formalize the chief executive post as a prime minister, the plan envisions.
Kerry's visit comes as the election results are being audited in a process that he brokered last month but that had halted to mark the end the of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan in late July. The audit resumed earlier this week with representatives of both candidates participating but still at odds over charges of widespread election fraud in the June 14 runoff. Preliminary results of the poll showed Ghani Ahmadzai well ahead of Abdullah, but both sides alleged fraud.