Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize Monday for his leading role in the world peace process and his support for dramatic changes.

Gorbachev, credited with preventing Communist regimes from crushing the peaceful revolutions that swept Eastern Europe last year, had topped a short list of nominees considered favorites for the peace prize, awarded by Norway's Nobel Committee."Words fail one at such moments," Gorbachev said in comments to the official Tass news agency. "I am moved."

Gorbachev told Norwegian Radio he would accept the prize in person Dec. 10. "I am touched and proud," he said, adding he felt like a successor to Andrei Sakharov, the late Soviet dissident awarded the prize in 1975.

Announcing the award, Committee Secretary Gidske Andersson said Gorbachev was chosen for his leading role in the world peace process. "Gorbachev has given many decisive contributions to the dramatic changes that have marked this world," he said.

Andersson said the Nobel Committee considered whether to award the prize to more than one candidate but "found that Gorbachev's importance is so great that this year the prize should go to him alone."

"Immense changes are in progress after his initiatives," Andersson said in announcing the prestigious award, which includes $700,000.

In Washington, President Bush congratulated Gorbachev, saying the Soviet leader has "been a courageous force for peaceful change in the world."

"He has brought historically significant changes, both political and economic, to the Soviet Union and to Eastern Europe," Bush said in a statement. "East-West relations hold greater promise for peace and world stability today than at any time in the last 45 years."

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."

Apart from Gorbachev and Havel, other contenders were African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and Chinese student Chai Ling, leader of Beijing's dissident students during the May 1989 Tiananmen Square democracy demonstration.

In Moscow, Yegor Ligachev, often perceived as one of Gorbachev's opponents, was quoted by Norwegian Television as expressing "deep joy and satisfaction."

"It shows the Soviet Union is now regarded with confidence by the rest of the world," Norwegian television quoted Ligachev as saying.

In its citation, the Norwegian Nobel Committee said it had "wanted to honor Mikhail Gorbachev for his many and decisive contributions" to the "historic changes" now taking place between East and West.

"During the last few years, dramatic changes have taken place in the relationship between East and West. Confrontation has been replaced by negotiations," the citation said.

"The arms race is slowing down and we see a definite and active process in the direction of arms control and disarmament," it added.

"These historic changes spring from several factors," the citation continued, saying it wished to honor Gorbachev for his role.

"The greater openness he has brought about in Soviet society has also helped promote international trust," the citation said.

Roy Medvedev, a former dissident rehabilitated by Gorbachev and now a member of the Supreme Soviet, said the award was well-deserved.

"No one else in the past year has realized such success in the politics of peace as Gorbachev," Medvedev said.

Alexei Yemelyanov, another member of the Supreme Soviet, was more critical of the Soviet president because of his domestic problems.

"This is the only sphere where Gorbachev's activities have produced positive results, where there has been new thinking," Yemelyanov said. "We have become a bit more civilized and more humane. And the world has noticed and responded."