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AZERBAIJAN DENIES IT WILL CHALLENGE TURKMENISTAN'S CLAIM TO 'NEUTRALITY.' Independent defense expert Uzeir Djafarov and Azerbaijani parliament deputy Zakhid Orudj have both argued that Baku would be justified in asking the UN to consider stripping Turkmenistan of its officially recognized "neutral" status, reported on 25 June. Djafarov expressed disquiet at Turkmenistan's ongoing efforts to beef up its military strength by means of contracts with Ukraine to modernize its air force and navy. But Turan on 27 June quoted Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry official Tair Tagizade as saying that while Baku sees no need for an arms buildup in the Caspian region, it will not raise the issue of formally depriving Turkmenistan of its self-proclaimed neutral status. LF

NATO HEAD PROMISES HELP IN REFORMING UKRAINE. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said in Kyiv on 27 June that NATO is ready to assist Ukraine on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "We do know that on the road to NATO many reforms are necessary, and I know the Ukrainian government has embarked on the road of reform, and the NATO allies and myself as NATO Secretary-General will assist Ukraine wherever that is asked or wherever that is necessary," de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference following his meeting with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. Speaking at a meeting with representatives of Ukrainian nongovernmental organizations, the NATO head called on them to abandon Cold War-era stereotypes and look at NATO in a new way. He defined NATO's priorities in the modern world as fighting terrorism, thwarting nuclear proliferation, and reacting to regional conflicts. According to a poll held in May among more than 1,200 Ukrainians by the Kyiv-based Academy of Pedagogical Sciences, more than 58 percent of Ukrainians would vote in a referendum against joining NATO. JM

UKRAINE, MACEDONIA TO INVIGORATE ECONOMIC COOPERATION. President Yushchenko said at a joint news conference with his Macedonian counterpart Branko Crvenkovski in Kyiv on 27 June that the two countries need to move toward establishing joint ventures in order to boost trade and economic cooperation, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Both countries are reportedly interested in developing cooperation in the spheres of high-tech machinery, oil and gas pipeline building, and building hydroelectric power stations. The sides signed a number of cooperation agreements, including on railroad transport, tourism, and health. JM