Le Carre dines out with Karla

The creator of spymaster George Smiley last night sat down to dinner with the man who, in 1991, became the real-life version of Smiley's arch- enemy, Karla.

Yevgeny Primakov, the Russian Foreign Minister, met his favourite author John le Carre, for the first time last night at the Russian Embassy in Kensington Palace Gardens.

The thaw in the Cold War means that le Carre was able to meet the man who headed the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service - VRS, the successor to the KGB - from 1991 until he became Foreign Minister in January last year.

Mr Primakov has had extensive dealings with the KGB throughout his life, and there have been reports that he was an active KGB officer during his early career as a journalist and academic.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Primakov met Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, who presented him with a copy of Smiley's People signed by himself and le Carre.

Mr Primakov, 68, arrived on Thursday and dined with John Major. Yesterday, he made a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chat- ham House.

"He's a tough, impressive negotiator who knows his stuff," a diplomat said yesterday. "There's a bit of the old style and a lot of the new style. He's an impressive operator. And he's very secure in the Russian system."

Mr Primakov is a life-long friend of Oleg Kalugin, the KGB general who was chief of counter-intelligence and later turned against the organisation after 1990. They met in 1959 as trainee journalists.

Yesterday's negotiations centred on Nato's plans to enlarge to embrace the new democracies of Eastern Europe which will require a "charter" between the alliance and Russia.

Although Mr Primakov said Russia still opposed Nato enlargement to the east, he and his British counterpart appeared to agree on many things.

It is not quite clear whose idea it was for Mr Primakov to meet le Carre last night.However, a Russian embassy official commented: "John le Carre's name is quite well-known in Russia"