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Rival Afghan presidential candidates sign deal to cooperate

By Lesley Wroughton

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan's rival presidential candidates have signed a deal to cooperate on the formation of a government of national unity, both candidates told a news conference following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Friday.

A joint declaration that both of the candidates signed, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, did not provide details on the government's framework, except to say that both sides would form commissions to work on its structure.

The power sharing deal, agreed verbally during Kerry's last visit to Afghanistan a month ago, was intended to pull the country back from war along ethnic lines after both candidates claimed victory in an election marred by widespread fraud.

"One of these men is going to be president but both are going to be critical to the future of Afghanistan no matter what," Kerry told reporters in Kabul.

The two candidates, former finance minister Ashraf Ghani and former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah stood by Kerry as he spoke.

The joint-declaration stated the candidates would agree to a timeline for the electoral process and inauguration date for the next president by the end of August. Afghanistan's Western backers hope an audit of votes will produce a legitimate president before a NATO summit in early September.

The United Nations is supervising a full recount of all eight million votes cast in a June run-off vote, as agreed during Kerry's last visit to Afghanistan a month ago.

"This audit is not about winning and losing, it is about achieving a credible result that people of Afghanistan deserve," Kerry added.

The election was to mark Afghanistan's first democratic transfer of power before most foreign troops pull out at the end of 2014.

(Additional reporting by Krista Mahr; Writing by Jessica Donati; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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