Ivory Coast's president has called for swift military intervention in northern Mali, as part of efforts to oust Islamist militants from the region.
Alassane Ouattara, who chairs the West African bloc ECOWAS, said the bloc hopes to organize the intervention in the first quarter of 2013, if the United Nations authorizes the deployment this month.
The U.N. Security Council is set to meet Wednesday to discuss U.N. Chief Ban Ki-moon's recommendations on the proposed ECOWAS mission.
Ban warned in a report last week that a poorly executed mission could worsen Mali's humanitarian situation, and that "fundamental questions" remain about sustaining, equipping and financing the proposed 3,300-troop force.
Ouattara spoke in an interview Wednesday to France's Europe-1 radio. He said the operation is "urgent," saying the militants who control northern Mali are terrorists and drug traffickers.
Islamist militants seized control of northern Mali in April, a few days after a coup that toppled the President Amadou Toumani Toure.
On Tuesday, Mali's government met with two rebel groups to work toward a formal framework for holding an inter-Malian dialogue.
The two sides met Tuesday for preliminary talks mediated by Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore.
Rebel groups Ansar Dine and the MNLA (National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad) agreed to respect Mali's "national unity and territorial integrity" and to reject extremism and terrorism.
Burkina Faso's foreign minister, Djibril Bassole, read a statement describing the talks as a "frank, open" discussion, and said the delegations have committed to meeting again to create a structure for finding a solution to the crisis.
Malian Foreign Affairs Minister Tieman Coulibaly told reports following the meeting that he thinks the rebels understand that the government will never negotiate on the issues of territorial integrity, national unity or Mali being a democratic and secular state. He described Malians feeling a sadness about the situation in their country, but also a resolve to emerge from the crisis.