Afghan presidential rivals agree to vote audit

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Afghanistan’s rival presidential candidates have committed to a comprehensive audit of the nation’s contested election results, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Saturday.

Kerry said the that Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah had agreed to abide by the results of the "largest, most comprehensive audit" possible, according to the Associated Press.

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Under the deal, international supervisors will examine every vote cast in the runoff election. Both candidates have agreed to form a national unity government if they prevail.

The deal came on the second consecutive day of talks with the pair, as the U.S. sought to calm tensions following a runoff election clouded by allegations of mass fraud.

Abdullah has long been the favorite in the presidential contest, and held a substantial lead over Ghani in the first round of voting. But preliminary results released earlier this week by the Afghan government showed Ghani with the advantage.

Abdullah’s supporters have staged mass and occasionally violent protests throughout Afghanistan, urging him to form a breakaway government that would undermine U.S. hopes for the first peaceful democratic transition in the nation’s history.

On Friday, Kerry stressed “as the country sorts through the election process, how important stability and a peaceful approach to that stability is.” He added that President Obama and the United Staes were “deeply interested in a unified, democratic, and stable Afghanistan.”

“We obviously have high hopes that the questions about the election will be resolved quickly, can be resolved, and that a way forward can take place which can give Afghans confidence that they have a presidency and a government that is capable of unifying all Afghans and building a road to the future,” Kerry said.

If the situation de-escalates further, it could put in jeopardy a security agreement enabling U.S. trips to remain in Afghanistan over the next year. Both candidates had agreed to a plan that would allow 10,000 troops to remain to help train Afghan security forces, which continue to fight against the Taliban, but chaos in the government could force an early withdrawal. 

Negotiations over the deal delayed Kerry’s departure for Geneva, where he’ll join talks on the Iranian nuclear deal and meet with his German counterpart on allegations of U.S. spying in Berlin.