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Clinton 'Encouraged' by Afghan Election Developments

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U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Monday she is encouraged by the direction of efforts in Afghanistan to resolve the country's election controversy. She says she has been assured that a second round of presidential voting can be held before the onset of severe winter weather in that country.

Clinton and other U.S. officials are not saying that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accepted a run-off vote that could ease doubts about the fairness of the electoral process.

But the Secretary of State says Mr. Karzai intends to announce on Tuesday how he plans to proceed on the issue, and that she is "encouraged by the direction" of events in the Afghan political crisis.

Clinton's comments came after United Nations-backed fraud investigators invalidated results from more than 200 polling stations in Afghanistan's August 20th election, which meant that incumbent President Karzai had dropped below the 50 percent vote threshold needed to avoid a run-off.

Afghanistan's government-appointed election commission is legally-bound to accept the investigators' verdict. But there have been news reports that it and Karzai campaign officials might reject a new vote.

Clinton, in a talk with reporters here, said she has been involved in intensive telephone diplomacy with President Karzai and his main election rival, former Afghan foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah, and is encouraged by what she has heard from the parties.

"I am very hopeful that we will see a resolution, in line with the constitutional order in the next several days. But I don't want to pre-empt in any way, President Karzai's statement, which will set the stage for how we go forward in the next stage of this," she said.

There have been concerns expressed that a run-off election cannot safely be held in the coming weeks because of security threats and oncoming winter weather. But Clinton said she has been given "every assurance" from U.S. and NATO military commanders, as well as Afghan security officials, that a second round "is absolutely possible to do."

Clinton acknowledged that the lingering election dispute has been one of the factors delaying a decision by President Barack Obama in his administration's policy review over whether to commit more U.S. troops to Afghanistan. "Obviously, this is a major part of our strategic review as to getting the election behind us, getting a new government that can represent the partnership we're seeking as we move forward," she said.

Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel told U.S. television interviewers on Sunday that the central question is not how many troops the United States sends but whether it has a credible partner in Kabul that can provide the security and services the Afghan people need.

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Army General Stanley McChrystal, has warned that the war with the Taliban could be lost if more troops are not deployed. He reportedly is asking the president to send as many as 40,000 additional troops.