From NPR - News National/International -

Kerry Pushes For Audit Of Disputed Afghan Presidential Poll

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah at the start of a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Friday. Kerry sought Friday to broker a deal between Afghanistan's rival presidential candida

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah at the start of a meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul on Friday. Kerry sought Friday to broker a deal between Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates. (Jim Bourg/AP)

Calling it a "critical moment" in Afghanistan, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a partial recount in the country's presidential elections amid alleged vote fraud.

"We are in a very, very critical moment for Afghanistan," Kerry told reporters. "Legitimacy hangs in the balance. The future potential of the transition hangs in the balance. So we've a lot of work to do."

As we reported on Monday, former Afghan Finance Minister Ashraf Ghani appears to be in the lead, but his opponent, ex-Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, has charged election fraud.

NPR's Sean Carberry, reporting from Kabul, says Kerry has met with both candidates and with the United Nations in "basically marathon talks all day long."

"Kerry said several days ago, before he even arrived, that a substantial [election] audit was necessary," Sean says. "The U.S. position has been that there was clearly extensive fraud in the election and a significant audit needs to take place in order for the outcome to be considered legitimate."

But the details of the partial recount have been shifting. Abdullah's camp initially agreed to an audit of only 6,000 stations but then demanded 2,000 more. Now, it's asking for 11,000 polling stations to be audited, representing approximately 3 million to 4 million votes out of the estimated 8 million cast in June's runoff.

The shifting goal posts are "raising concerns that each time [the Abdullah camp gets] what they are asking for, they start pushing for a higher audit," Sean says.

He said Kerry had also "warned that any attempts to circumvent the process or to take power through illegal means could mean Afghanistan losing its foreign funding."

That concern follows a rally several days ago in which Abdullah declared himself the winner, saying he had more "legitimate" votes than his opponent.

"His followers have been urging him to declare his own government unilaterally," Sean says.

By way of background, The Associated Press says:

"For the United States, the political crisis threatens to undermine more than a decade of efforts to leave behind a strong Afghanistan capable of containing the Taliban insurgency and preventing extremist groups like al-Qaida from using the territory to endanger the American homeland.

"With Iraq wracked by insurgency, Afghanistan's election is posing a new challenge to President Barack Obama's effort to leave behind two secure states while ending America's long wars."