U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets the top two Afghanistan presidential candidates in an attempt to negotiate a deal between the two rivals. Rough Cut (no reporter narration).
ROUGH CUT (NO REPORTER NARRATION) STORY: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Afghanistan on Thursday (August 7) for his second visit in under a month to push a deal between the country's two presidential candidates on how to share power after an audit of a disputed election is complete. Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah shook hands on an agreement to resolve the election row after Kerry's visit in July, but they remain far apart on critical components of their pact to form a united government. Although a painstaking audit of all eight million ballots cast in the second round of voting is underway, neither candidate has openly endorsed the process and the deadlock has raised the spectre of violent conflict along ethnic lines. Afghanistan's Western backers hope the audit will produce a legitimate president before a NATO summit in early September, and Kerry will meet both candidates as well as current President Hamid Karzai to drive forward the deal. While Karzai has said the next president will be inaugurated on Aug. 25, most officials involved in the process say the deadline is optimistic and it could take until the end of the month for a winner to emerge at the earliest. "We are hopeful the secretary can obtain a commitment by both candidates to a timeline for completing the audit and agreeing on the details of a national unity government," said a senior State Department official who briefed reporters en route to Kabul. NATO desperately wants Afghanistan to have a leader at the summit that was to be a crowning moment of its mission of more than a decade, and before Western combat troops withdraw at the end of 2014.