The Obama administration and officials of allied Arab and Western nations are discussing putting Syria's highest-ranking military defector at the center of a political transition, U.S. and Middle East officials say.

The focus on Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a childhood friend of President Bashar al-Assad, is increasing the Syrian National Council umbrella group looks increasing incapable of marshalling the opposition, the officials told the Wall Street Journal.

Efforts to find a transitional figure who is palatable to the Assad regime's Russian backers and leading Arab states, as well as to the opposition, have taken on added urgency as rebel fighters make gains in major Syrian cities and more high-level officials defect, the officials said.

The officials said Tlass is one of the few figures in opposition to the regime who could potentially help restore order in Damascus and secure Syria's vast chemical-weapons stockpile.

Tlass was a commander in Syria's elite Republican Guard before his July 6 defection, and his father served as defense minister under Assad's late father, President Hafez al-Assad, for 30 years.

He is also, unlike the Assad clan, a Sunni Muslim, which Western officials hope could make him acceptable as a transitional figure to the country's rebel fighters and opposition leaders, who are also largely from the Sunni sect of Islam.

"It's too early to say if Tlass will stand the strain and pick up traction or just fade away," a senior U.S. defense official said. "The next week or two will reveal his credentials and attractiveness to the various components internally and internationally."