Paris - The chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States spoke on Tuesday in favour of a timely military operation against the Islamic rebels in northern Mali.
"Political dialogue is certainly necessary, but a military intervention appears inevitable to me," Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara, who heads the regional group, said after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.
Negotiations should begin "as soon as possible", said Ouattara, whose country borders on Mali.
Ouattara has asked the UN Security Council to authorise a mission. African troops are standing by, he said.
Northern Mali has been ruled by a radical Islamist group since a military coup in early 2012. The militants are seeking to establish a theocracy in the region.
With support from the European Union, Ecowas is planning to intervene militarily to oust the rebels. The lack of a UN mandate has been the diplomatic stumbling block.
European states want to dispatch advisers for the Malian army, but these troops would not participate directly in the military operation.
An Hollande spoksperson said the French president shared Ouattara's views on Mali.