U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has arrived in Afghanistan on an unannounced visit to try to reduce tensions over disputed presidential polls which have sparked fears of violence and ethnic unrest.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Kerry would meet with presidential contenders Abdullah Abdullah and Ashraf Ghani, as well as outgoing Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission has declared Ghani won the second round of voting on June 14 with 56.44 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.
The tally might change when the final official numbers come out on July 22.
Abdullah, who won the first round of voting, has rejected the preliminary results of last month's runoff as a "coup" against the Afghan people.
Kerry on June 10 said Washington had "enormous concerns" for the restoration of the credibility of the elections process in Afghanistan.
Speaking during a visit to Beijing, Kerry told reporters that both of Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates must show statesmanship and leadership at a critical time.
He also said the United States hopes "very much" over the course of the next few days that a way forward can be found to resolve the dispute.
Meanwhile, the State Department on July 10 clarified remarks by James Dobbins, the U.S. envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, that appeared to suggest Washington wants Afghanistan’s feuding presidential candidates to form a unity government.
The Bloomberg News Service on July 9 quoted Dobbins as saying “a government of national unity that includes all elements” in Afghanistan is “a necessity for a successful government.”
But U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on July 10 said, "It is for the next president of Afghanistan to determine the composition of the government."
Psaki added that "the United States government wants to see a unified Afghanistan and wants to bring unity to the people of Afghanistan."
She said the next government “will need to be broad-based and inclusive to lead to a unified Afghanistan.”
Washington, Psaki said, was "encouraging a range of steps in the process” to “get closer to that conclusion."
A total of 8 million votes were counted and as many as 3 million ballots could be challenged in an official review by electoral officials.
U.S. President Barack Obama told both candidates in telephone calls earlier this week that any “violent or extra-constitutional measures” over the vote fraud allegations would “cost Afghanistan the financial and security assistance of the United States.”
Meanwhile, the head of the EU election-monitoring mission to Afghanistan has called for an "in-depth audit" of the results.
Thijs Berman said in a statement on July 10 that without such an audit, "it is not possible to declare a winner."
With reporting by RFE/RL correspondent Luke Johnson in Washington, Reuters, AP, and AFP