The First Minister said Scotland has been put in a very strong position when it comes to UK plans to leave the European Union following her meeting with Theresa May.
She also insisted that the EU’s attitude to Scotland’s place in Europe has softened since June’s referendum result, and the option of Scotland staying in both the EU and the UK while the rest of the UK “Brexits” should not be ruled out.
The Prime Minister has said she will not trigger Article 50 - the formal mechanism for leaving the EU, which starts two years of negotiations - until she thinks “we have a UK approach and objectives”.
But Brexit Secretary David Davis has insisted Scotland cannot have a veto over any deal to leave the EU, and suggested Article 50 would be triggered “by the start of next year”.
Speaking on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Scotland programme, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think we have got a window of opportunity now between where we are right now and the triggering of Article 50, whenever that happens, to see if there is a way of effectively squaring the circle.
“Is there a way within the UK that Scotland can protect its relationship within the EU in line with how Scotland voted?”
“If you are asking me right now, do I think Theresa May will never ever trigger Article 50 unless I am saying to her I am absolutely happy with the direction that the UK is taking, I don’t know that that is the case, but what she did seem to indicate is that she wants, as I want, to see if we can find options that respect how Scotland voted.”
Asked if she will call a second independence referendum if she is not satisfied with the UK’s approach when formal negotiations begin, Ms Sturgeon said: “That’s why I am also, in parallel to these discussions, making sure the Scottish Parliament is making preparations to have another independence referendum if we find ourselves in that position.
“I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself just now, but of course at that point that would be an option and decision that I would have to consider.
“I will have an independence referendum if I come to a conclusion that I think that is in the interests of Scotland.”
Earlier, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, when asked about the Prime Minister’s UK-wide approach, Ms Sturgeon said: “I think that puts Scotland now in a very, very strong position.
“That’s a position I am going to use as well as I can.”
Ms Sturgeon has already set up an expert group to look at the options for protecting Scotland’s place in Europe after the country voted to stay, while the UK as a whole opted to leave in last month’s referendum.
She also told the Marr programme that it could be possible to find a solution where Scotland remains in the EU and the UK, while the rest of the country leaves the EU - a move Scottish Secretary David Mundell has described as fanciful.
She said: “My position is, there might be. We’re in uncharted territory, and when you are in uncharted territory with effectively a blank sheet of paper in front of you, then you have the opportunity to try to think things that might have previously been unthinkable and shape the future.”
Her comments contradict remarks by some EU leaders, including Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, who have suggested that if the UK leaves, Scotland leaves too.
But the First Minister, who met with key EU figures during a trip to Brussels after the referendum, said Europe’s attitude to Scotland has changed since the 2014 independence referendum.
Asked if the EU may put aside its own rules and act politically to keep Scotland in, she said: “I do think that mood is there, and what I encountered in Brussels was a warmth, an openness, a great sympathy to the position that Scotland finds itself in.
“Things have changed fundamentally.”