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In Afghanistan, Kerry seeks path out of post-election crisis; UN plans to audit fraud claims

  • Afghanistan Kerry-1.jpg

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, centre, talks with Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief of protocol Ambassador Hamid Siddiq, as Kerry arrives at Kabul International airport in Kabul, Friday July 11, 2014. Kerry is expected to meet with Afghanistan's President Kharzai as well as both candidates in Afghanistan's recent presidential election. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) (The Associated Press)

  • Afghanistan US Kerry-2.jpg

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry disembarks from his aircraft after arriving at Kabul International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) (The Associated Press)

  • Afghanistan US Kerry-3.jpg

    A U.S. military helicopter crew member, who is part of the International Security Assistance Force, looks out at Kabul as his helicopter transports U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's staff members and journalists, from Kabul International Airport to the U.S. embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, July 11, 2014. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) (The Associated Press)

  • 2fbdc673ea19861a590f6a706700e22e.jpg

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, centre, talks with Afghanistan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs chief of protocol Ambassador Hamid Siddiq, as Kerry arrives at Kabul International airport in Kabul, Friday July 11, 2014. Kerry is expected to meet with Afghanistan's President Kharzai as well as both candidates in Afghanistan's recent presidential election. (AP Photo/Jim Bourg, Pool) (The Associated Press)

Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to broker a deal between Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates as a bitter dispute over last month's runoff election risked spiraling out of control.

Kerry, who arrived predawn in Kabul on a hastily arranged visit, is meeting Friday with former Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai (ahsh-RAHF' gah-NEE' ah-mahd-ZEYE') and former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah as well as the current leader, President Hamid Karzai (HAH'-mihd KAHR'-zeye).

The objective is to convince both candidates to hold off on declaring victory or trying to set up a government until the United Nations can conduct an audit of extensive fraud allegations in the voting.

For the United States, the political crisis is threatening to undermine more than a decade of efforts to leave behind a strong Afghanistan.