EUREKA - Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev said Friday that fate allowed him and President Reagan, whom he called "a great man," to meet at just the right time and forge a partnership to end the Cold War. | Video | Photo gallery
"There still is debate about what was done right, and what wasn't done. But one fact can't be denied: The Cold War was ended, and we started the process of eliminating nuclear weapons," Gorbachev said, speaking through longtime translator Pavel Palazhchenko.
Gorbachev visited Eureka College - President Reagan's college alma mater - as part of a daylong program that also included a keynote speech that evening at the Peoria Civic Center.
Gorbachev told a Eureka College crowd that Reagan, long a Cold War hawk, shifted toward being a peacemaker in the mid-1980s. At the same time, Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985, was trying to reform and open up the Soviet Union.
The two trends coincided perfectly, he said.
"We (the Soviet Union) broke the ice," he said. "We created an atmosphere of trust" between the two countries, he said.
The two leaders didn't always agree, said Gorbachev, but they were men of principles who worked first on developing a working personal relationship.
"That gave us a chance later to chart a road to the future," he said.
The college visit included a brief walk in the Ronald Reagan Peace Garden, which features a 5-foot slab of the now-razed Berlin Wall. It sparked a conversation with Eureka President David Arnold about Reagan's famous quote from a 1987 visit to West Berlin: "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall."
"It didn't have much of an impact on us," Gorbachev said. "After all, we knew his initial career was as an actor."
Gorbachev said his honest view of Reagan is that "when all is said and done, he was a great man."
He later toured the college's Reagan Museum - where he read some of Reagan's college essays and watched a clip of a Reagan film, "Hellcats of the Navy." He briefly talked to a crowd in the Cerf Center lobby.
Gorbachev said he appreciated being where Reagan started his life, and he was pleased with how Eureka honored the 40th U.S. president. "It's without too much excess, but in a dignified way," Gorbachev said. He also noted the rural Eureka setting reminded him of his birthplace.