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Kerry meets Afghan candidates

– The Obama administration stepped up efforts Thursday 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 Abdullah Abdullah and former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai – to understand the urgency of finding a resolution before the NATO summit in Wales on Sept. 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to make decisions about their nations’ roles in Afghanistan after the end of the year, when most combat troops will be withdrawn.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 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 this week with representatives of both candidates participating but still at odds over charges of fraud in the June 14 runoff.

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