Mali's prime minister has called for the UN Security Council to approve international military intervention in his country to defeat rebels who control vast swathes of territory in the north.
Cheick Modibo Diarra's call on Wednesday came as Francois Hollande, the French president, called for the council to approve African military intervention in Mali "as quickly as possible".
"The government of Mali would like to see the immediate presence of this force to support the defence and security in carrying out their noble mission of recovering and maintaining territorial integrity and protecting persons and property," Diarra said.
"There is an urgency to act to end the suffering of the people of Mali and to prevent a similar situation that would be even more complicated in the Sahel and the rest of the world," he said.
Hollande echoed Diarra's request, telling a UN ministerial meeting on Africa's troubled Sahel region that "there is no question" of negotiating with militants.
But Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, signalled caution, saying immediate efforts should concentrate on putting a legitimate government back in power in Mali before its internal divisions are addressed.
"This is not only a humanitarian crisis; it is a powder keg that the international community cannot afford to ignore," Clinton said in her remarks.
"In the end, only a democratically elected government will have the legitimacy to achieve a negotiated political settlement in northern Mali, end the rebellion and restore the rule of law."
She said Mali's security forces need help, and said African-led interventions in Somalia and the Ivory Coast were successful. Clinton said Mali's "chaos and violence" threatens the entire region's stability.
Mali's interim government has asked a West African bloc for a military intervention to root out so-called Islamists who overran northern Mali after a March coup.
The Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, is awaiting Security Council approval before sending in about 3,000 troops with aerial support.
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is now using Mali as a safe haven to launch attacks in neighbouring countries as it tries to undermine democratic transitions under way in North Africa, Clinton said, in what appeared to be a reference to the killing of the US ambassador in Libya.
The Security Council said last week that the ultra-conservative fighters, who advocate a harsh interpretation of Islamic law, have only become more entrenched as they move closer to government-held territory in central Mali.
Mali's September 1st request for an intervention was initially opposed by coup leaders who still retain considerable influence.
Mali's leaders are still negotiating with ECOWAS over the timeline of the force's deployment and its mandate. Retaking the north will be jointly planned by an ECOWAS force headquarters in Bamako and Malian defence and security forces.
Mali has ruled out an ECOWAS military presence in the first two phases of the planned deployment, when the coalition would be limited to providing equipment, logistics and intelligence.