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Secretary of State John Kerry, right, talks with Hamid Siddiq, Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief of protocol, after arriving at Kabul International airport. / Jim Bourg, AP

WASHINGTON ?? Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kabul early Friday to try to head off a growing crisis over a disputed presidential election that threatens to unravel the democratic political process the U.S. has spent more than a decade building.

"This is a critical moment for the transition," Kerry said before arriving in Kabul.

At issue is a June 14 runoff election marred by allegations of widespread fraud. Preliminary results showed former finance minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai with 56.4% of the vote, but former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah has refused to accept the results as legitimate and some of his supporters have urged him to declare himself the winner and establish an alternative government.

The United States has warned against such a move.

Afghanistan's Independent Electoral Complaints Commission is investigating the fraud allegations.

Kerry plans to meet with both presidential candidates in an effort to push them to resolve the dispute and avoid the potential for violence. President Obama had earlier spoken with both candidates in hopes of heading off a broader crisis.

"We made clear that ? neither the United States nor its partners are likely to support a divided Afghanistan and that the consequences of such a division would be to begin to roll back the extraordinary progress that has been made over the last 13 years," Ambassador James Dobbins, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a speech Wednesday.

Analysts say the United States has influence over both candidates, who recognize the need for continued U.S. financial support and support keeping American troops after the end of 2014, when most coalition forces leave.

The United States plans to leave 9,800 troops in Afghanistan after this year for a counterterrorism force and to advise and support Afghanistan's security forces in their continuing battle with Taliban. The country will also need significant amounts of international money to support its armed forces.

"We have leverage," said Ronald Neumann,a former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan.

Both candidates, however, also have to answer to constituents, including powerful warlords or local leaders who may be pressing the candidates to declare victory, analysts say.

"I don't think either side is ready to make concessions," said Ahmad Majidyar, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute.

The United States has had an often tumultuous relationship with President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since the U.S.-led invasion that toppled the Taliban in 2001. He was not eligible to run again because of term limits.

Karzai refused to sign an agreement that would provide U.S. troops with the necessary legal protections to remain after this year, and he often has criticized American forces for causing unnecessary civilian casualties during drone and other aerial attacks on the Taliban. Both presidential candidates have promised to sign such an agreement.

Washington had looked forward to stronger relations in a post-Karzai era. Now it faces the possibility of a disintegrating political system if the election standoff is not resolved.

"That's an even a bigger concern than dealing with Karzai," Majidyar said.



Copyright 2014USAToday

Read the original story: Kerry arrives in Kabul to mediate electoral crisis

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