President Barack Obama has told leading Afghan presidential candidate Ashraf Ghani that the United States expects allegations of election fraud in Afghanistan to be thoroughly investigated.
The White House says Obama called Ghani on July 8. The call comes a day after Obama called Ghani's opponent, Abdullah Abdullah, to urge him not to declare victory while the electoral process continues.
Preliminary results show Ghani ahead by about 1 million votes. But Abdullah says that's because of massive fraud.
The White House said in a statement that Obama urged both candidates to stay calm and seek a resolution that doesn't undermine national unity.
The president warned that if "violent or extra-constitutional" means are used, the United States will end its assistance to Afghanistan.
The U.S. State Department has said up to 3 million of the 8 million ballots counted by Afghan election officials could be involved in an audit of votes from 7,000 polling stations that have been challenged -- enough to alter the outcome.
Several U.S. senators voiced concern about the election process on July 8.
"If the elections fail then Afghanistan will fail. It would be hard for the American taxpayer to invest in Afghanistan if these elections are not honored," said Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina).
"A legitimate audit process would be hopefully enough for the loser to accept their fate, because if they don't, then Afghanistan goes back into the darkness," added Graham.
Senator John McCain (Republican-Arizona), asked whether Ghani was the winner, responded, "I think, from what I've seen of the results. I know nothing more than that. We know there was a degree of fraud, but is that enough to override the results of the election? We're going to have an audit, and we'll see what happens after that audit."
Earlier on July 8, Abdullah claimed victory in the disputed election and blamed fraud for putting him behind Ghani in preliminary results.
But he said his campaign team does not want “civil war” or “a crisis,” and called for “stability, national unity, not division.”
Abdullah also said U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will visit Kabul on July 11 to discuss the dispute.
Meanwhile, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on July 8 that wrangling over the election results must be resolved in time for a new president to sign a security pact with NATO by September.
Rasmussen, speaking after meeting Obama in Washington, said if the pact is not signed before a NATO summit in Wales in early September, the alliance will have "severe" problems planning a training mission in Afghanistan after 2014.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has refused to sign the pact, leaving the task to the next elected president.
Rasmussen said the allegations of election fraud in Afghanistan are a "grave concern" and that he hopes an audit will produce a credible outcome.
But allegations of fraud and the process of investigating complaints raised by both candidates could delay the results.
The Afghan Independent Election Commission has set a deadline of July 22 to announce the final results. An inauguration has been scheduled for August 2.
With reporting by RFE/RL's Luke Johnson in Washington, AFP, Reuters, and AP