Former world leaders gathered in Washington to mark the 20th anniversary of Perestroika, the reform process in the former Soviet Union that contributed to the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War.

In March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and initiated a process of fundamental liberalization of his society. The process, later called Perestroika, came to be regarded as pivotal to the fall of the Iron Curtain.

At a Washington symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of the start of Perestroika, Mr. Gorbachev said reform was a historic necessity. Mr. Gorbachev recalled his 1985 conversation with members of the ruling Politburo, the Communist Party's top decision-making body.

"I said that I believed that our society was looking for changes, was expecting changes, and, therefore, we needed to muster courage to start changes," Mr. Gorbachev said. "'It will be difficult,' I said, 'but I see no other way forward.'"

At the time, the Soviet Union was in a deep political crisis, mired in social and economic problems, and no longer perceived as able to address the needs of its citizens.

At the Washington event, former President Clinton said Perestroika was fundamentally conceived to benefit the people of the Soviet Union. Yet, he said, in the final analysis, Mr. Gorbachev's actions led to the democratization of Russia and Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War and the abandonment of the arms race.

Mr. Clinton praised Mr. Gorbachev as an exceptional leader:

"Mr. President, you will go down in history as someone who changed the world for the better, and as one of the most important figures in the entire world in the latter half of the 20th century," Mr. Clinton said.

Mr. Clinton said history showed there were no losers in the Cold War. The world community triumphed when the United States and Soviet Union ceased their threats of mutual nuclear annihilation, the former U.S. president said.

Mr. Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1990 for his contributions toward promoting international trust and cooperation.

Numerous awards have been bestowed upon Mikhail Gorbachev, including an unlikely one: the Grammy award, one of the music world's top accolades. Mr. Gorbachev, President Clinton and actress Sophia Loren won the 2004 Recording Academy award for their work on a Peter and the Wolf  CD.

By mistake, Mr. Gorbachev never received the actual award. To remedy the oversight, Grammy Academy President Neil Portsnow made a trip to Washington to present the last Soviet leader with the statue of a golden gramophone.