Obama calls Afghan candidates as vote recount drags on

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (L) and Afghanistan's presidential candidates Abdulah Abdullah (C) and Ashraf Ghani (R) smile together after announcing a deal for the auditing of all Afghan election votes at the United Nations Compound in Kabul, late July 12, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/Jim Bourg

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama on Friday called Afghanistan's presidential candidates who are fighting over who won a June 14 election and urged them to maintain national unity during a vote recount and transition, the White House said.

Preliminary results from the runoff election put Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank official, well ahead. But his rival, former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, rejected the result, claiming major fraud.

The two candidates agreed to a recount after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry brokered a deal, but the process is moving slowly, bogged down by frequent disagreements. Only 1,000 of more than 23,000 ballot boxes had been audited by Thursday.

Obama thanked the candidates for agreeing to accept the outcome of the recount, and said rhetoric threatening "extra-constitutional measures" was not justified, the White House said in a statement.

"The President encouraged both candidates to publically endorse their previously agreed political framework and continue their dialogue on the details of its implementation to ensure the Afghan people have full confidence in the ongoing electoral process and outcome," the White House said.

Obama "urged Dr. Abdullah and Dr. Ghani to continue to move forward in the spirit of collegiality to maintain national unity during this historic democratic transition," the White House said, noting Kerry would continue to consult with both sides.

The election will determine who replaces Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the Taliban was ousted in a U.S.-led war in 2001. Major delays could complicate plans for an agreement to keep about 10,000 U.S. troops in the country after most troops leave at the end of 2014.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)