By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers called on Tuesday for a "supercharged" diplomatic response to North Korea's nuclear tests and missile program, including unilateral sanctions on banks and companies from China and other countries that do business with Pyongyang.
"I believe the response from the United States and our allies should be supercharged," said Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
"We need to use every ounce of leverage... to put maximum pressure on this rogue regime," he said at a committee hearing on ways to pressure North Korea. "Time is running out."
But lawmakers insisted any military option should be a last resort.
"It's hard to overstate just how devastating a conflict on the Korean peninsula would be," said Representative Eliot Engel, the committee's top Democrat. "If this conflict escalates into a war, we could be measuring the cost in millions of lives lost."
Repeated sanctions have failed to deter North Korea's weapons program. But Royce, who said he had breakfast with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday before the hearing, insisted that sanctions could still have an important impact.
He said the United States does not need China's cooperation to pressure North Korea.
"We can designate Chinese banks and companies unilaterally, giving them a choice between doing business with North Korea or the United States," he said.
"We should go after banks and companies in other countries that do business with North Korea the same way," he said.
The United Nations Security Council unanimously stepped up sanctions against North Korea on Monday following Pyongyang's sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, imposing a ban on the country's textile exports and capping imports of crude oil.
It was the ninth sanctions resolution unanimously adopted by the 15-member council since 2006 over North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear programs.
To win the support of Pyongyang, ally China and Russia, Washington dropped demands, including a bid for an oil embargo and the blacklisting of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and the national airline. [L4N1LS1RY]
(Editing by Bernadette Baum)