OSLO — Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev won the 1990 Nobel Peace Prize today for his decisive role in the dramatic rapprochement between East and West--leadership that helped end the Cold War, free the East Bloc and slow the arms race.
In awarding the 59-year-old Soviet leader the $700,000 prize, the Norwegian Nobel Committee also cited him for allowing greater openness in his homeland.
Gorbachev said today the prize--the first to a superpower chief executive since President Woodrow Wilson won in 1919--recognized the success of \o7 perestroika\f7 , his government's reform policies.
"Words fail one at such moments. I am moved," Tass news agency quoted Gorbachev as saying.
"When we were starting our perestroika," Gorbachev said, "we knew that it would have vast significance to all countries." He said he will personally accept the award in Oslo.
In its citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it decided to give Gorbachev the prize "for his leading role in the peace process."
The committee noted "dramatic changes" have occurred over the last few years in the relationship between East and West, saying: "Confrontation has been replaced by negotiations. Old European nation states have regained freedom. The arms race is slowing down and we see a definite and active process in the direction of arms control and disarmament."
The committee said several factors played a role in the historic changes, but this year it was singling out Gorbachev "for his many and decisive contributions."
"This peace process," the citation said, "...opens up new possibilities for the world community to solve its pressing problems across ideological, religious, historical and cultural dividing lines."
Gidske Anderson, leader of the Nobel Committee, refused to say if the prize was meant to help Gorbachev stay in power, as the same domestic policies that have democratized political life also have led to instability.
"If you will read the text you will see we are talking mainly about international policy," Anderson said.
"The big thing that is happening in the world is the reconciliation of the superpowers."
Gorbachev is the second Soviet to win the Peace Prize. The first was nuclear scientist and human rights activist Andrei Sakharov, who won in 1975. Sakharov, who died in December, could not accept the award for 14 years--until Gorbachev freed him from internal exile and allowed him to travel.
Sakharov's widow Yelena Bonner, criticized Gorbachev last week in a Norwegian newspaper, comparing him to Napoleon, who conquered Europe and made himself an emperor. Today she had no comment on Gorbachev's win.
Initial reaction today favored the choice of Gorbachev for the prize.
In Washington, President Bush praised the Soviet leader, saying the United States "continues to work with the Soviet Union to promote regional and international peace."
Former President Ronald Reagan said Gorbachev won the award because of his "bold and courageous leadership" and added: "I congratulate my friend on his wonderful recognition of his accomplishments."
"Since our first meeting in Geneva nearly five years ago, I have found Mikhail Gorbachev to be sincere in his effort to make the world safer," especially by reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles, Reagan said in a statement.
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain said the selection of Gorbachev was "terrific."
President Vaclev Havel of Czechoslovakia, who had been considered a leading candidate for the prize, said:
"Mikhail Gorbachev contributed significantly to the acceleration of the inevitable changes in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and certainly deserves the prize. If this prize contributes to the peaceful and quiet transition of the Soviet Union to a society of equal nations and citizens, we welcome it warmly."