TEHRAN (AFP) - Iran on Tuesday slammed a decision by France's Eutelsat and Arqiva of Britain to stop broadcasting Iranian state television channels as "without legal justification."

"The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) has contracts going back 20 years with Eutelsat, which were renewed for five- or 10-year periods," IRIB vice president Mohammed Sarafraz was cited by state television as saying. "The contract was still valid, and the decision to stop broadcasting 19 Iranian channels is political.

"Eutelsat broke the contract between us unilaterally and without legal justification," he said, adding that IRIB lawyers planned a formal complaint.

"Arqiva and Eutelsat have jointly agreed to terminate broadcasts via Eutelsat’s Hot Bird satellites of channels belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB)," Eutelsat said in a statement on Monday. "This decision was based on reinforced EU Council sanctions and a confirmation by France's broadcasting authority that the Sahar 1 TV channel that broadcast in IRIB’s multiplex of television and radio services should be permanently switched off.

"IRIB has been informed of the termination of its contract."

EU foreign ministers on Monday agreed a slew of tough new financial and trade sanctions on Iran aimed at forcing it to return to stalled talks on its contested nuclear programme.

The EU, the United States and Israel suspect Iran is seeking to acquire an atomic weapons capability through its controversial programme of uranium enrichment. Tehran denies this, saying its nuclear ambitions are entirely peaceful and energy-related.

IRIB chief Ezzatollah Zarghami "was included in the list of European Union sanctioned persons disclosed on March 23, 2012, following a violation of human rights by IRIB in its programming," the Eutelsat statement said.

French broadcasting authority, the CSA (the Conseil superieur de l'audiovisuel), confirmed a 2005 decision that the Sahar 1 channel should be permanently switched off via Hot Bird.

"As a French company, Eutelsat is bound to comply with instructions from the French broadcasting authority," the satellite operator's statement said.