The Trump administration announced sweeping new sanctions Friday in its effort to stop North Korea's weapons development.
The Treasury Department unveiled the sanctions on 56 shipping vessels and entities as the U.S. tries to isolate the rogue regime. President Donald Trump promoted the measures Friday at the end of a freewheeling speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, saying he hoped they would make a difference.
"We imposed today the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country before," Trump said, without detailing his evidence for the statement. "Frankly, hopefully, something positive can happen."
While the Treasury called it the "largest North Korea-related sanctions tranche to date," it is not clear if it is the largest imposed on any country. The measures target one individual, 27 entities and 28 vessels, according to the Treasury. They are located or registered in several locations: North Korea, China, Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Marshall Islands, Tanzania, Panama, and Comoros, the agency said.
"Treasury is aggressively targeting all illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions, including taking decisive action to block the vessels, shipping companies, and entities across the globe that work on North Korea's behalf," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement. "This will significantly hinder the Kim regime's capacity to conduct evasive maritime activities that facilitate illicit coal and fuel transports, and erode its abilities to ship goods through international waters."
The U.S. and its allies have enacted a series of sanctions in an attempt to cut off funding for Pyongyang's ongoing nuclear and missile tests. Despite the economic pressure, North Korea has shown few signs of backing down from its aggressive rhetoric and weapons development.
Part of the strategy includes stopping oil shipments to the communist dictatorship, and reports suggest North Korea has gotten help in evading sanctions. The U.S. has tried to get China — Pyongyang's only major ally — to apply as much economic pressure as possible.
Mnuchin told reporters Friday that "we believe that the economic sanctions are beginning to have a significant impact on their ability to fund their programs." He did not provide evidence to back the claim.
Trump has repeatedly exchanged explosive rhetoric with North Korea's Kim Jong Un since he took office in January 2017. Last year, he said North Korean threats "will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." He also boasted that he had a "Nuclear Button" that is "bigger and more powerful" than Kim's.
While Trump has issued multiple threats toward North Korea, his advisors have repeatedly said the U.S. does not want to use military force. Asked Friday what options the U.S. has if sanctions do not work, Mnuchin would not go into detail.
He told reporters: "I don't think we're going to make any comments on what our options are or aren't in the future. … We will continue to roll out new sanctions."