As Caspar Weinberger followed many hard-liners into retirement, U.S. officials found it very difficult to recognize and act upon the significant changes in Soviet domestic and foreign policies. Gorbachev stepped up the pace of change in 1987–1988 with economic reforms and a surprising push to democratize the party system, initially with internal changes for secret ballots and multiple candidates. The more Gorbachev pushed a glasnost opening, the more demands he encountered from domestic pressure groups of reformers to move toward a Western representative system that tolerated more than just the Communist Party and operated with a government independent of the party, an independent judiciary, a president and bicameral legislature, and respect for individual rights. Although faced with increasing conservative resistance, Gorbachev achieved politburo approval for his agenda except for a multiparty system. Gorbachev used the appearance of arms control agreements with the United States and the growing normalization of relations for additional leverage against his conservative adversaries.
Gorbachev and Reagan moved toward announcing the end of the Cold War. When exchanging the INF ratification documents in Moscow with Reagan, Gorbachev stressed that each of the four summit meetings had undermined the foundations of the Cold War. During his visit to the United Nations in New York City and his brief meeting with Reagan and president-elect George Bush, Gorbachev articulated a new international order free of Cold War competition and guided by self-determination. This further development of new thinking shaped Gorbachev's successful persuasion of the Soviet military and the politburo to agree in November to significantly reduce Soviet conventional forces and shift to a defensive strategy as well as to initiate planning for the withdrawal of Soviet forces from eastern Europe. At the end of the Moscow summit Reagan came close to agreeing that the Cold War was over in response to a reporter's question, but he hesitated and then repeated his favorite refrain on Moscow, "trust but verify." Later, as he left Washington for retirement in California, Reagan announced that the Cold War was indeed over.