The United Nations security council was poised today to vote on authorising an African-led invasion of northern Mali to drive out Islamist militants.
A French motion gives UN secretary-general Ban Ki Moon 45 days to draw up a plan with Mali, the regional Ecowas group and the Africa Union.
French President Francois Hollande said he was confident the security council would back it and dismissed the idea of negotiating with the militants.
"Discussing? But with whom?" he asked an interviewer on French TV. "With terrorists who cut off hands and destroy world heritage sites?"
Mali's elected leader was ousted in a coup in March by soldiers who said he had failed to quell a Tuareg revolt in the country's north.
Since then the rebellion has grown and the separatists have largely been displaced by Islamist groups bristling with high-tech weapons - many believed to have come from Libyan stockpiles looted in the Nato-backed campaign against Muammar Gadaffi, in which French warplanes played a key role.
Mr Hollande has ruled out the idea of French soldiers entering Mali, a former French colony, but said they could provide training and unspecified "materials" to forces fighting alongside the Malian government.
The security council has previously asked Ecowas to draw up a "feasible" plan for a joint military force.