Defense Secretary Harold Brown said yesterday the United States would take whatever action was appropriate -- including military force -- to ensure the flow of oil in the Middle East.

Brown, who recently returned from a 10-day Middle East trip, said on "Face the Nation" (CBS, WDVM) that "protection of the oil flow from the Middle East is clearly a part of our vital interest...

"In protection of those vital interests we will take any action that is appropriate, including military force."

Brown made the statement when asked whether the United States would go to war to protect the Saudi Arabian oilfields, which provide 20 percent of U.S. oil imports.

He also said the Iranian government appointed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini does not seem eager to form alliances with any major power, but added: "I believe we can work out friendly relations."

Brown said he found in his recent talks that Mideast nations were concerned about possible threats from beyond their borders, and he added that he United States has begun talks with several countries on a more active U.S. presence in the area.

Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger said on "Meet the Press" (NBC, WRC) that the administration is considering the use of U.S. military strength to protect vital interests in the Persian Gulf area, but he declined to say where and in what form.

"The issue of a U.S. military presence is under consideration," the former defense secretary said. "That would involve military personnel. Whether it would involve a deployment of troops... combat arms of the ground forces, is another question."

Pressed for specifics, he said "these matters are under review and it would be inappropriate for me to get into specifics at this time."