updated 6/6/2004 11:14:29 AM ET 2004-06-06T15:14:29

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Sunday he was distressed by the death of former President Ronald Reagan, with whom he held complicated and tense talks in the fading years of the Cold War.

“I take very hard the death of Ronald Reagan, a man whom by fate sat with me in perhaps the most difficult years at the end of the 20th century,” Gorbachev told reporters at the Gorbachev Foundation, a non-governmental analytical institute that he has run since 1992.

Those were years, Gorbachev said, “when everyone felt that we lived under the threat of nuclear conflict.”

Despite Reagan’s often-forceful statements against the Soviet Union, Gorbachev said he also had a personal warmth that bolstered their relations.

“In terms of human qualities, he and I had, you would say, communicativeness and this helped us carry on normally,” Gorbachev said.

“But when you talk about friendly relations in politics, it’s not the friendship of schoolmates, of the Arbat,” he said referring to Moscow’s main street for promenades and relaxation.

“I deem Ronald Reagan a great president, with whom the Soviet leadership was able to launch a very difficult but important dialogue,” the Interfax news agency quoted Gorbachev as saying on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Earlier Sunday, Gorbachev was quoted by Interfax as calling Reagan “a statesman who, despite all disagreements that existed between our countries at the time, displayed foresight and determination to meet our proposals halfway and change our relations for the better.”

Gorbachev listed Reagan’s accomplishments as helping to “stop the nuclear race, start scrapping nuclear weapons, and arrange normal relations between our countries,” he was quoted as saying.

“I do not know how other statesmen would have acted at that moment, because the situation was too difficult. Reagan, whom many considered extremely rightist, dared to make these steps, and this is his most important deed,” he was quoted as saying.

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