French President Francois Hollande asked the UN Security Council to approve military intervention in Mali "as quickly as possible," according to the Associated Press.
The plan would entail France providing logistical support to a West African force to take back control of northern Mali from the Al Qaeda-linked militants now in power.
Hollande's plan had support from Mali's neighbors, but the United States said Mali should first have an elected government, Reuters noted.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "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," according to Reuters.
The special UN session on the sidelines of the General Assembly was held to decide on a plan for Mali, which has suffered from unrest since a coup in March toppled the president. Tuareg rebels seized control of nearly two-thirds of the country in the ensuing chaos and power vacuum.
The Tuaregs were pushed out of the north by local militant Islamists connected to Al Qaeda, who began destroying ancient shrines and arresting women for not wearing a veil, Al Jazeera noted.
World leaders vowed to stem the burgeoning food crisis in the Sahel region, but remained cautious of approving an intervention in Mali.
Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "The region needs your attention, your focus. Do not abandon it and regret it later," according to France 24. "The Sahel is at a critical juncture. Political turmoil, extreme climatic conditions and fragile economies are combining to create a perfect storm of vulnerability."
Mali's Prime Minister Cheick Modibo Diarra asked the Security Council to approve "an international military force, one which would be composed of all those willing and able to help us reconquer occupied territories in the north of our country."
Hollande said "there is no question" of negotiating with terrorists, the AP reported. Hollande ruled out direct intervention, but urged a resolution on Mali within weeks, Reuters said.
The Economic Community of West African States is awaiting approval from the Security Council to send in around 3,000 troops, the AP said.