The U.N. General Assembly (search) approved a global treaty Wednesday aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism by making it a crime for would-be terrorists to possess or threaten to use nuclear material.

A resolution adopted by the 191-member world body without a vote calls on all countries to sign and ratify the "International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism." (search) The treaty will be opened for signatures Sept. 14 and must be ratified by 22 countries to come into force.

"By its action today, the General Assembly has shown that it can, when it has the political will, play an important role in the global fight again terrorism," U.S. deputy ambassador Stuart Holliday told delegates after the vote. "The nuclear terrorism convention, when it enters into force, will strengthen the international legal framework to combat terrorism."

The treaty makes it a crime for any person to possess radioactive material or a radioactive device with the intent to cause death or injury, or damage property or the environment. It would also be a crime to use such material or devices to damage a nuclear facility.

A person would also commit a criminal act by threatening to use radioactive material or devices — or unlawfully demanding nuclear material or other radioactive substances. Accomplices and organizers would also be covered by the convention.

Countries that are parties to the treaty would be required to make these acts criminal offenses under their national laws, "punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account the grave nature of these offenses."