Moon Jae-in, a top contender for South Korea's May 9 presidential election, has vowed to speak directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if elected to resolve surging tensions on the peninsula, he told a local newspaper Monday.

Speaking to The Korea Herald, Moon said Seoul had been relegated to "spectator" status on the North Korean issue as U.S. President Donald Trump weighed his options for confronting the nation over its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

"We must recognize (Kim Jong-un) as North Korea's leader, and if we are to resolve the nuclear issue we must negotiate (with Kim)," Moon was quoted as saying.