Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning an “extraordinary attack” on the political power of Iran’s clerics in an attempt to “separate mosque and state,” the Times of London reported.

Ahmadinejad, whose second and final presidential term ends in August, and his chief of staff and would-be-successor, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, intend to “effectively dismantle the theocratic structure of Iranian government that has stood since the revolution,” if Mashaei proves able to win the upcoming presidential election, Tuesday’s report said.

Mashaei, who is regarded as an opponent of the religious establishment, reportedly said during a recent planning meeting that he has “the deepest respect for the clerics, but they are not politicians. Their presence is damaging Iranian politics. Their role should be spiritual only. In the next four years we have an opportunity to change the constitution.” The quote was cited by an anonymous source who told the paper that Mashaei’s “implication was clear — he was endorsing a separation of mosque and state.”

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (photo credit: CC BY Kremlin.ru, Wikipedia)

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei (photo credit: CC BY Kremlin.ru, Wikipedia)

However, winning the presidency in the June elections will not be an easy task for Mashaei. The list of candidates must be approved by a council controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whose relationship with the Ahmadinejad administration has been strained at the best of times and who is expected to support a candidate of his own choosing.

Even if Mashaei is approved to stand for election, he is not a nationally known figure and his close ties to Ahmadinejad could be detrimental to his chances.