(Recasts; adds comment from U.S. official, meetings,
By Lesley Wroughton
KABUL, July 11 U.S. Secretary of State John
Kerry held meetings late into the night on Friday in an effort
to resolve Afghanistan's disputed presidential election, warning
the two candidates that the country's transition to a
self-reliant state hung in the balance unless the credibility of
the vote was restored.
The deadlock over the vote has raised concerns about a
smooth transition of power in Afghanistan, a concern for
Washington as most U.S.-led forces withdraw from the country
Kerry had rushed to Kabul earlier on Friday in a
hastily-arranged visit for talks with the two presidential
contenders, Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, as well as
incumbent President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials.
A senior U.S. official said Kerry would hold a second round
of talks on Saturday with all sides to weigh several ideas.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said
conversations focused on ways to ensure a thorough review of the
vote count that would be acceptable to both sides as well as
ideas for building an inclusive and broad-based national
Asked whether the possibility of a unity government was
raised, the official said: "We certainly hope that it is a
government that is unified, but I'm not going to define what
that looks like."
"A lot of the conversations were being (held) in listening
mode, hearing what was important to the candidates and their
constituents, and trying to assess what was out there," the
official said, describing the conversations as constructive and
Preliminary results from a June 14 runoff vote put Ghani, a
former World Bank official, in the lead, but Abdullah rejected
the result, calling it a "coup" against the people and his aides
have threatened to set up an alternative administration.
"The election legitimacy hangs in the balance, the future
potential of the transition hangs in the balance, so we have a
lot to do," Kerry said before his meetings with Jan Kubis, the
U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan.
"Our hopes are that there is a road that can be found that
will provide that capacity for the questions to be answered, for
people's doubts to be satisfied, and hopefully for a future to
be defined. But I can't tell you that that's going to be an
automatic at this point."
U.S. officials said there were several ideas currently being
discussed among the parties to resolve the crisis. During both
meetings with the presidential contenders, Kerry said the United
States considered the vote results as preliminary.
Abdullah's rejection of the outcome has set the stage for a
possible bloody standoff between ethnic groups or even secession
of parts of the fragile country, which is already deeply divided
along tribal lines.
Ghani, speaking earlier, said he favoured a comprehensive
audit. "Our commitment is to ensure that the election process
enjoys the integrity and the legitimacy that the people of
Afghanistan and the world will believe in," he said. "Therefore,
we believe in the most intensive and extensive audit possible to
Abdullah, for his part, said after meeting Kerry: "At a very
critical time, you have proved your commitment to Afghanistan,
to saving Afghanistan and saving the democratic process here."
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told Reuters
that an agreement on a broad review of the votes would be an
initial step to enable the candidates to talk through their
"Secretary Kerry's goal is to help the parties find a way
forward that ensures that the next president of Afghanistan has
a credible mandate to lead a unified Afghanistan," she said.
The United States believes the results of the final tally in
the second round should not be released until the audits have
Abdullah, a former anti-Taliban resistance fighter, draws
his support from the Tajik minority in the north of the country.
Ghani has strong support from Pashtun tribes in the south and
Kerry has warned that any effort to resolve the dispute
through violence or any "extra-constitutional means," would
cause the United States to withdraw assistance to Afghanistan.
The United States is in the process of withdrawing its
forces from the country after 12 years of fighting Taliban
insurgents, but remains the country's biggest foreign donor,
helping to fund the operations of the Afghan government.
A senior State Department official said if Washington
withdrew support, other donors were likely to follow and that
would have a significant impact on the government's actions.
"Both sides have expressed to the secretary that they want
to get to an outcome that is credible, transparent and
accepting," the official told reporters en route to Kabul,
speaking on condition of anonymity.
"We're not asking them to do something they don't want
(Writing by Lesley Wroughton and Maria Golovnina; editing by
Clarence Fernandez and G Crosse)