UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon is calling for urgent action to help Mali's government and people reunify the country, first by promoting political reconciliation and as a last resort by a military operation to oust hardline extremists and criminal elements from the north.
Mali was plunged into turmoil in March after a coup in the capital created a security vacuum.
That allowed Tuareg rebels to take half the north. But months later, the rebels were kicked out by Islamist groups allied with al Qaida.
In a report to the UN Security Council circulated late on Wednesday, Mr Ban said that before any military action is launched, the focus must be on initiating a broad-based political dialogue to agree on a roadmap for a transition and addressing the long standing grievances of the Tuaregs.