Less than a week after allegations of fraud prompted election officials in Afghanistan to delay the results of that country's presidential runoff election, Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., called Friday for the two remaining Afghan candidates to allow the results to be audited.
"There's ample evidence of fraud," said Graham, according to the Wall Street Journal. "There needs to be an audit that is recognized by the Afghan people as legitimate and by the international community as legitimate."
A failure to end the standoff, McCain warned, "could put not only the political environment in Afghanistan into a crisis, but also weaken American support for the continued process" of helping Afghanistan as the country recovers from more than a decade of war.
The two senators visited Afghanistan over the July 4 holiday weekend to survey America's changing role there ahead of a planned withdrawal of nearly all U.S. troops by the end of this year.
On Tuesday, Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission delayed the results of the June 14 runoff election after accusations of election tampering from former Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, who won 45 percent in an eight-person field during the first round of voting in April but failed to avert a runoff by securing a majority.
Abdullah accused his opponent, former World Bank official Ashraf Ghani, of conspiring with current President Hamid Karzai and the election commission to stuff ballot boxes across the country. Ghani won only 31.6 percent of the vote in April, but according to the Journal, both campaign teams believe he's ahead by more than a million votes in the runoff.
Ghani has not objected to an audit of the runoff results, but his team expressed concern that the proceedings could delay the planned Aug. 2 inauguration.
"We support any kind of audit, but on the calendar time frame" currently in place, Abbas Noyan, a spokesman for Ghani, told the Journal. "The government of Afghanistan has already sent invitations to more than 40 leaders of different countries to attend an inauguration ceremony of a new president that is going to take place on August 2."
On Friday, McCain suggested both candidates were seeking common ground to resolve the impasse. "Their team was meeting last night and again today, and there is some hope that by Monday they may come to some agreement on the audit," he said.
A delay in the inauguration of the next Afghan president could further complicate American efforts to negotiate a continued role for some American forces in Afghanistan after most of troops leave this year. Karzai has declined to sign a status-of-forces agreement that would sanction an official U.S. presence in Afghanistan beyond 2014, saying it's a matter best left to his successor. Both Abdullah and Ghani have said they will sign such an agreement, but they can't do that until they take office.