updated 9/10/2004 11:08:36 AM ET 2004-09-10T15:08:36

Three years after the devastating Sept. 11 attacks, Secretary of State Colin Powell said he believes Osama bin Laden is still alive, although he said he has no proof of that.

His al-Qaida network is decimated at top levels, Powell said, a day after bin Laden’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahri, issued a new videotape that asserted the terror group would defeat the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“It does have the capacity to regenerate itself,” Powell said of al-Qaida. But any future leaders are not as accomplished nor as experienced as “those who have been taken out” in the U.S. campaign that overthrew the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and the subsequent hunt for al-Qaida operatives, Powell said in an Associated Press interview.

Bin Laden's name invoked less
The Saudi expatriate bin Laden, the target of Bush administration rhetoric after the attacks three years ago, largely has been dropped out of the U.S. lexicon. There was no direct mention of him at the Republican national convention that nominated President Bush for a second term.

“I don’t know where he is,” Powell said. “I don’t know his state of health. I believe he is still alive, but I can’t prove that. He clearly is in hiding and he is on the run.”

Powell went on: “He is not popping up on television and he is not showing himself in a way that he can be captured.”

Reflecting on the three years since the Sept. 11 attacks, Powell asserted “we are safer” but “we are still in a threatening environment. There are still people who want to strike the United States.”

Chechnya, North Korea
On another issue, Powell sought to ease Russia’s irritation with his suggestions that ultimately there must be political dialogue to resolve the war for independence in the rebellious province of Chechnya.

“How this problem of Chechnya will ultimately be solved is something for the Russians to work out,” Powell said. “With respect to terrorist attacks against innocent Russians, we stand united with the Russians that they have to deal with this in the most powerful, direct, forceful way that they can in order to protect their citizens — the same as we are doing to protect our citizens.”

Also, Powell said North Korea would seize on disclosures that South Korea had conducted experiments with enriched-uranium and plutonium, key ingredients for making nuclear weapons. “It’s quite clear that these were not intended other than for academic, experimental purposes,” he said.

Asked, meanwhile, if he would serve a second term as secretary of state if Bush won re-election, Powell did not rule it out. “Time will tell. We will see.”

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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