The Security Council gave African leaders 45 days from October 12 to draw up a plan for military intervention to retake the north, but diplomats say any such operation is months away.
Foreign powers are divided on the pace of an intervention. Regional powerhouse Algeria says it prefers a negotiated solution, while former colonial master France - which has several citizens held hostage by al Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahara - wants a swift war.
Delegates from Islamist group Ansar Dine are holding talks with regional mediator Blaise Compaore, the president of Burkina Faso, and members of the Tuareg rebel movement MNLA have sought to join efforts to solve the crisis.
Another Islamist group in the zone, MUJWA, told Reuters this week that a foreign intervention in Mali’s north would lead to an Iraq-style quagmire.
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned on Thursday that a military intervention in northern Mali would have a high humanitarian cost.
Access for aid workers is already precarious in the north, where 500,000 people - half the remaining population - depend on foreign aid, ICRC President Peter Maurer said.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Andrew Roche)