KABUL (Reuters) -- A UN-led fraud panel has said it will announce on October 19 its long-delayed verdict on Afghanistan's disputed presidential vote, which is expected to end weeks of political uncertainty in the volatile country.
Pressure has been mounting on President Hamid Karzai to accept a possible runoff against his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, or work out a compromise deal to break the deadlock.
The election, tainted by allegations of widespread fraud, has fanned tension between Karzai and Western governments fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan.
It has also complicated U.S. President Barack Obama's deliberations on whether to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan to fight a resurgent Taliban.
"We will be releasing the results of our findings in a statement today," said Nellika Little, a spokeswoman for the UN-backed Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC).
For the past eight weeks, the ECC has been sifting through mountains of suspicious votes to determine whether Karzai has won outright or will face a second round against Abdullah, his former foreign minister and main challenger.
The ECC announcement, originally expected over the weekend, was delayed, diplomats and observers said, because Western powers were trying to get Karzai to agree to face off with Abdullah in a second round.
Karzai has spoken out against a second round and has criticized the fraud investigation, which he hinted could have involved foreign meddling. One diplomat in Kabul, however, suggested on October 18 that Karzai had softened his stance.
U.S. Seeks 'Reliable' Partner
In Washington, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel said the United States needed a reliable partner in Kabul to press on with its military effort in the country.
Speaking to CBS, he said it was key to "get a government that is seen as legitimate to the people and has the credibility to be a partner in the effort to secure Afghanistan so it's not a haven for Al-Qaeda or other type of terrorists or international terrorist organizations."
Pressure has been mounting on Karzai to find a way out of the protracted crisis as foreign diplomats and officials including U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry flocked to Kabul over the weekend to help broker a solution.
Observers familiar with the talks said a range of scenarios were on the table, including a power-sharing deal with Abdullah.
For his part, while accusing Karzai's camp of fraud and calling for a second round, Abdullah has hinted he might be open to discussions after the first round result is announced.
Preliminary figures gave Karzai 54.6 percent of the vote. If, under the ECC ruling, enough votes are thrown out from his tally, he will face Abdullah in a second round within two weeks.
Under Afghan law, Afghanistan's separate Independent Election Commission has to accept ECC findings, adjust the election tally and announce the final result. The Afghan commission was not available for a comment on whether it planned to do so on October 19.
The UN mission in Kabul which appointed three of the ECC's five members, has said it was ready for a possible run-off.
Ballot papers have been printed and plans drawn up to hold it by early November if necessary, but the rapid onset of winter, which will soon make many Afghan regions inaccessible, and security concerns are certain to complicate the effort.