AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — While giving a foreign policy speech sponsored by various groups at the University of Texas, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio warned Tuesday that terrorists training in ungoverned swaths of Syria could “soon” attack American interests around the world — or even on the nation’s home soil.

The Cuban-American tea party darling and possible 2016 presidential hopeful gave the speech at UT Austin. That meant heading onto the home turf of two other potential future White House contenders: Texas Governor Rick Perry and Rubio’s Senate colleague and fellow grass-roots conservative champion Ted Cruz.

Rubio serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Intelligence committees and has long advocated for more U.S. engagement with the forces opposing the Syrian government. The senator from Florida told a crowd of around 250 students, dignitaries and invited guests that the Obama administration failed to lead during the early stages of the conflict in Syria, creating a void that allowed foreign fighters to gather and train there.

“Vast, ungoverned spaces have opened up in Syria where the government doesn’t control the territory and it increasingly has become the premiere operational space on the planet for radical jihadists to train and operate,” Rubio said. “I will make a prediction to you tonight that if things continue the way they are, soon we will see attacks staged against our interests and, God forbid, perhaps even our homeland from those ungoverned spaces in Syria.”

He also told the crowd that diplomatic efforts should be used far more often than military force, but added: “What happens with these problems around the world is they eventually come for us.”

After his speech, Rubio answered questions from Will Inboden, executive director of the university’s William P. Clements Jr. Center for History, Strategy and Statecraft, as well as from students. When asked if he would be willing to use U.S. military force to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, Rubio responded: “Yes, I think it’s that serious of a threat.”

He also described Russian President Vladimir Putin as deliberately weakening the global stature of the U.S. to build up Russia, adding that it is time for America to “potentially begin to prepare Ukraine for its own defense by providing the training and weapons.”

And Rubio called the leaks from former U.S. National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden “the single most-damaging revelation of American secrets in our history.”

Inboden eventually gave Rubio a Texas football jersey with his name on it and quipped: “We’d love to see you wear this on the Senate floor.”

Rubio seemed more enthusiastic about that idea than answering questions about a possible run for the White House.

“Eventually I’ll have to make a decision one way or another because my Senate term will expire in 2016,” he told reporters after the event. “But it won’t be today.”

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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