The decision could determine how deeply involved in the conflict the United States becomes, The New York Times reported Saturday.
The United States currently is transporting 600 members of a French mechanized battalion and its equipment to Mali. American officials say they are also providing satellite images and other intelligence information.
The question at hand, however, is whether to use American tanker planes to refuel French jets. Such an action would allow the jets to provide close-air support to French and Malian troops on the ground. It also would raise U.S. involvement in the conflict to a new level by directly supporting military attacks.
The president and his advisers, concerned about the conflict becoming an open-ended mission for the French, are mulling the broader political and strategic implications of any deeper involvements, aides say.
Complicating the problem are the transitions in major security posts. Sen. John Kerry and Chuck Hagel are still awaiting confirmation to head the departments of State and Defense, respectively. Both men are known for their views on keeping American hands off conflicts that military partners can handle, or where American interests are only remotely affected.
Intelligence reports said the extremists in Mali are no direct threat to the United States, but they can threaten the region. "And that's where the argument for American involvement comes in," said one official.