Despite last-ditch efforts to resolve the Persian Gulf crisis, Secretary of State James A. Baker III and Iraqi President Saddam Hussein yesterday continued to lay the groundwork for war.

Baker completed consultations with King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, securing the Saudi government's assent to go to war if President Bush decides to do so. The secretary of state also told U.S. fighter and bomber crews that at midnight Tuesday the United States and Iraq "pass the brink" of war.

Saddam -- speaking on the eve of a visit by U.N. Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar, who is making a last-minute effort to mediate the crisis -- said any battle would boil down to Iraq's war-hardened veterans against an "infidel" force of rookies.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and President Bush spent 25 minutes on the telephone discussing new ideas proposed by Moscow to resolve the crisis. Subsequently Bush met twice with Soviet Ambassador Alexander Bessmertnykh.

The U.S. government yesterday recommended that tens of thousands of Americans living in Israel consider leaving. The State Department has ordered or urged U.S. citizens to leave an unprecedented number of countries in recent weeks as the threat of war grows.

Experts worry that panic in the financial and commodities markets will follow any outbreak of hostilities, overloading telecommunications networks and sending oil prices soaring in the short run. If fighting breaks out, stock exchanges are likely to close for 30 minutes to allow investors to digest the information.